You have probably heard the arguments proclaiming that if you spend more money now, you won’t have to spend more money later. Often times these discussions are talking about homes, cars, or expensive electronics, all of which may require maintenance or repairs in the future. But what about clothes, food, and personal hygiene products? Buying these types of products can have more of an impact on your wallet than the big-ticket items you buy only a few times throughout your life.
There are countless articles and blog posts about saving money by buying the better quality option. But what about buying the more ethical option? Shouldn’t the impact your purchase has on the world be part of the equation, not just how much cash you can save? Buying ethically is a growing practice and has already started to change the way some businesses are sourcing their products.
There are so many different factors to look at when making an ethical purchase, and it can be overwhelming if you have never tried it before. Should you buy the local product or the fair trade product from Ecuador? What about the organic product with palm oil versus the non-organic option with olive oil? Some of you may not even know what fair trade really means or why palm oil should be avoided.
As businesses have worked to provide the growing populace with necessities and luxuries, new ways of production, discovered natural resources, and scientific breakthroughs have enabled manufacturers to provide fast, affordable products. Instead of being limited to one pair of shoes for years, most of us (even in many third world countries) can now buy multiple pairs of shoes every year. But there is a downside to the affordability and mass production of consumable products.
Consumable products are items that can be purchased, used, and thrown away. Many non-consumable products that people use every day have morphed into consumable products because of advertising. One example is fast fashion, have you heard of it? New styles of clothing are coming out every week, and the advertisements tell us we need to continuously replace our out of style clothes, leaving us constantly unsatisfied with our current wardrobe.
“We consume 400% more clothing than we did even 20 years ago.”
“We grew up in the “fast fashion generation”. We had closets overflowing with clothing, but a feeling that we had nothing to wear.”
-MAXINE BÉDAT Co-founder of Zady (a company that is changing the way clothes are made while educating consumers on the impacts of fast fashion)
This phenomenon has greatly impacted the world in more ways than one. Cheap labor is greatly sought after in order to produce inexpensive clothes, causing businesses to cut wages and ignore safety measures for employees. Deforestation to provide land for palm oil and animal agriculture displaces villages and endangers animal species that could go extinct soon. Pollution from quick, mass production is wreaking havoc on ecosystems as well as polluting humans’ resources.
We have passed the point of just hurting the environment and animals. The consumerism lifestyle is now affecting humans as well. Displacing entire communities, negligence of workers’ safety and rights, pollution of humans’ water sources and air are just some examples. By using your money to buy ethically, small steps can be taken to create a better life for all people on Earth.
Have you heard the saying that every dollar you spend is a vote for something? It can be hard to tell what you are actually voting for though. Whether it be human rights, organic farming, rainforest conservation, or local businesses, you are voting for something with every purchase. When you buy cheap, mass-produced products, what are you voting for?
A couple days ago I was grocery shopping and I noticed all the non-dairy and vegan options sitting on the shelves, brands I used to think would never change. But they did, because more people are buying vegan options whether it be for animal rights, less pollution from animal agriculture, or dietary choices. Enough people voted with their money and companies are listening.
Not everyone has the option of buying organic, fair-trade, vegan chocolate because of money, availability where they live, or other reasons that are none of my business. It is up to each of us as individuals to decide what we want to tell the companies with our purchases. Just taking a couple minutes to research what you are actually buying could help improve the environment, a child’s life, or save an orangutan.
This all may seem daunting and expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. By purchasing items that are better quality, you will not have to replace or repair them as often as the cheaper version. You also won’t have to deal with the frustration of spending more on replacing cheap items, costing you more than the single high quality item you thought about buying in the first place. By combining quality and ethical purchasing techniques, you can purposefully help yourself and the world.
As the consumer, you have the final say in what you decide to spend your money on. You can choose to buy for cost, quality, ethical reasons, or all three if you do your research. The choice is yours.