What is ethical consumption?

Ethical consumption is the term used to describe buying habits influenced by morals – such as veganism, anti-slavery and sustainability. The main idea behind it is that in a capitalist world, money is what influences decision making. Therefore, by choosing to use your money on ethical products and services, you are showing companies that it literally pays to be ethical.

Why bother?

In recent years, many ethical choices have become mainstream. An increased transparency brought to us by globalisation means we know which companies use sweat shops and which chocolate is Fairtrade. Given that  customers care about this, companies have noticed that they make more money if they take this into consideration.

Some people don’t see how their individual actions can make a difference. The recent drive to reduce plastic straws is a great example of this. 1 straw won’t make a difference on its own, but if all 8.5 billion straws used in the UK each year are replaced by biodegradable or reusable alternatives, it can reduce carbon emissions from production, use less resources and create less pollution.

What should I consider?

Sometimes you’ve got to pick your battles. Companies are unlikely to be 100% perfect, so sometimes it’s worth making a personal choice: which cause is most important to you?

Using the straw example again, finding an alternative is good for the environment, sure. Yet, eliminating plastic straws altogether can be seen as ableist. You can change your own habits and you can encourage others, but your solution might not be the right thing for everyone.

Some areas for concern when buying products or services include:

  • Environment (e.g. energy use, habitats, pollution, climate change)
  • People (e.g. worker conditions, responsible marketing, )
  • Animals (e.g. animal testing, factory farming)
  • Politics (e.g. classism, genetic engineering, funding campaigns, taxation)
  • Product sustainability (e.g. organic, fairtrade, positive environmental features)

How can I consume ethically?

Sites such as Ethical Consumer tell you what to look for when making an ethical choice. They score products out of 20 so that you can simply go for whatever is at the top of the list. Many of the categories also have in-depth breakdowns of what issues are linked to each product too. This means it can be low-effort for you to shop ethically,  as long as you trust the source of information. In this case, the information is provided by the Ethical Consumer Research Association using media reporting, NGO reports, corporate communications and primary research.

How can I run an ethical business?

A little consideration in your supply-chain goes a long way. Buying locally can help reduce the carbon emissions from transportation and look for recycled/recyclable materials. Check that your suppliers pay a living wage and once you’re able to hire your own employees, put people before the product.

We’re running a one-off Business Ethics workshop to cover a lot of the issues related to ethical business practice on Friday 21st June. If the workshop is well attended and receives positive feedback, the workshop might become part of our regular offering. Come and show Liz your support and help shape what’s included!