How I shop my values

A 101 Guide to Ethical Consumption: How I Waste Less, Save More Money, And Shop My Values

I’ve been on an ethical consumption journey for a few years now. Sustainable living has saved me thousands of dollars, and being more ethical with my spending has had a major impact on my happiness.

I like knowing that the companies I support with my hard earned money are paying their workers well, and aren’t dumping toxic chemicals in people’s drinking water.

A 101 guide to ethical consumption: how I waste less, save money and shop my values

You may have heard the phrase “there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism,” especially if you’re on TikTok these days.

But ethical spending can feel daunting for a lot of people. So here’s my 101 guide for you to follow, and the path that I took when learning how to spend more sustainably.

What is Ethical Consumption?

We frequently hear stories about how bad everything is now.

Don’t eat that, it’s not organic. Don’t buy from that company, they use child labor. Don’t shop at that store, they don’t pay a living wage.

So ethical consumption is the attempt to be buying from and investing in companies that you believe are ethical. That means companies that support the same values you support, and treat their workers, customers, and general supply chain in a way you support.

You can also zoom out and include lifestyle choices under the umbrella of ethical consumption. Did you know that in the United States, it takes an average of 1,800 gallons of water to make a single pound of beef?

That’s a lot of H20! Eating less red meat (or none) is an easy way to be a more ethical consumer, because you are contributing less to the use of so many resources.

For me personally, I care a lot about minimizing the amount of trash I produce. I hate food waste, and I try not to buy things I don’t need.

So I love the clothing company Girlfriend Collective. I own two sports bras and a dress from them. They use ocean plastic to make their clothes, they are women owned, and they have a clothing recycling program.

Girlfriend Collective hits all my major points for ethical consumption and sustainable spending!

What is ethical consumption? How to waste less, save money and shop your values

How I Started Being More Ethical With My Dollars

Remember, we all start as beginners. No one is an expert at anything the first few times they try it! You think Lizzo picked up a flute and played perfectly her first time?? No ma’am.

My ethical consumption journey started way back in college. I played lacrosse, and we went through a LOT of plastics water bottles and plastic Gatorade bottles. Watching them pile up in the trash can by the practice field began to bother me.

I started collecting all the bottles after practice and recycling them. That was the first thing I did that tipped me into more sustainable living.

From there, I started thrifting my clothes after college (which helped me stay on budget!) and I started driving less.

Then, I got really serious about paying off my student loans when I was really low income. That meant I needed a pretty serious spending plan. I used values based budgeting to get clear on which spending mattered to me, and which didn’t.

That budget I created was a GAME CHANGER! I got so much clarity about how I wanted to live, and what I wanted to spend money on. I also saw that I was wasting a lot of money on certain things I didn’t give a flying eff about: mostly drinks at bars and random crap from target.

With my new budget I paid off $18,000 in student loans in 10 months, even though I was making less than $20,000 a year.

So you can see; as my life progressed and as my financial goals changed, my ethical consumption journey grew.

How to consume more ethically and shop according to your values

What About “There’s No Ethical Consumption Under Capitalism”?

The truth is we live in a complicated world. There is no perfect company. There is no perfect purchase.

So no one expects you to be the perfect consumer! Sustainable spending is about doing the best you can under your circumstances.

We know, for example, that Shein is a terrible horrible company. They use modern day slave labor and child labor. They also emit the same amount of CO2 as approximately 180 coal-fired power plants.

So even if you can’t afford to fill your closet with slow fashion, you don’t HAVE to shop at Shein. They are the worst of the worst. Shopping there is in no way ethical or sustainable.

That’s what I mean when I say it’s not about perfection. It’s about doing better.

By simply not shopping at places like Shein, you are keeping money away from a company that is straight up awful. And that’s a good thing.

Tips for Consuming Ethically and Buying Your Values

Look for certifications

Companies that have specific certifications are more trustworthy than others. Certificates like a B-Corp status, or the Fairtrade certificate, mean that the company has been vetted and are meeting specific worker and environmental standards. Quick note here: Fairtrade is different from Fair Trade! It’s got to be one word to be meeting the standards!

Research and ask questions

You can ask businesses where they source materials from, where they make their clothes, and what their pay standards are. For global corporations, a lot of this is online already. But for smaller businesses, you can email headquarters, or ask a representative.

Buy local

Shopping local is one of the most powerful spending decisions you can make. And that’s because when you spend money at a business that’s locally owned, you keep money IN your community. Roughly 68% of you money stays in your local community– meaning the money goes from your hands to the stores hands, then to things like paying for the owners kids soccer lessons, or to paying the lease on their storefront.

When we shop at WalMart or Target, only 43% of our money stays local. That’s because it gets sucked out of our communities and sent to corporate headquarters, or to pay the light bill in the WalMart three states over.

Buy secondhand

We make too much stuff today. And it’s a huge environmental problem, because we live on a planet with finite resources.

Buying secondhand will save you money, and it’s a fantastic way to use what has already been created. No need to check for supply chain issues really. The clothes or furniture have already been made. If we don’t buy them secondhand, they end up in the landfill, being burned, or in the ocean.

Talk about it

Simply talking about your ethical consumption choices is a very powerful thing to do as well. Most of us are vaguely aware of some of the labor and environmental problems in the shopping world, but few are up to date on it. Helping to inform others and then helping them change their own habits is a way to create real change in our world! So share this article with whomever needs to read it in your life, and get the conversation going.

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