Does it pay to be a conscious consumer?


Untitled (I shop therefore I am), Barbara Kruger

Change is a marathon not a sprint.

Now imagine me sitting on my bedroom floor reminding myself of this occaisionly as I wrap appreciation gifts. It has been a big year. I want to make sure that those who have been alongside the journey know how much I appreciate their support. This festive season instead of DIY gifts I decided to source ethical gifts, where my purchase saw proceeds being donated to various causes and projects around the world. I enjoy hand making gifts, but I have forgotten what I have made for whom in past years (sound off: who has the hand painted tea pots versus water jugs? Handmade necklaces versus bangles?)

So why was I sitting on the floor somewhat conflicted? Like many of the big issues facing the world today, there is an abundance of information out there on how to go about being a conscious consumer. I would make a great case study for a behavioural economist. In my social entrepreneurship training this year, it was emphasised that one should never elevate one issue at the cost of another. When I sat down to do more research, I came across a suite of articles reminding people to be conscious of their carbon footprint when online shopping this festive season. I looked at the items lined up in front of me – most of them had been purchased online and delivered to my door. I didn’t purchase a lot though, and most of it came from the same providers, so this footprint was somewhat minimal, right?

Change is a marathon not a sprint. We are in the midst of greater systems change which is causing disruption and a social turn.

Socially conscious consumers want businesses to make their processes more transparent. It refers to citizens becoming more aware of supply chains. Consumers want to know who made their products and where are they sourced from, right up until the time they make a transaction and it – either by foot or delivery – comes to your front door. I enjoy meeting the postman at the gate for a quick chat, although he still has not warmed to my dogs yet.

We’ve all seen the images of overcrowded, poor work conditions around the world – sweat shops producing fast fashion for brands to sell at a large profit margin. Immediately this story out of Bangladesh comes to mind. When it comes to consumerism, fast fashion and the growing concern for social justice means choosing ethically sourced products is growing. Just watch this quick video from 1 Million Women.

Major brands that make an attempt to keep working conditions and wages ethical, often lose out at the register, as became the case of American Apparel. Does being ethical always come with a price tag? Not always. As the 1 Million Women video suggests, being a conscious consumer can start out as buying less and making it last longer, looking to natural fibers or buying second hand. DIY and upcycling are in and a great way to engage your creative side. The Festive Season usually sees a flurry of local-made markets pop up, supporting handmade products where you can actually meet the person who made it.

As a consumerist society the first step as conscious consumers is avoiding overconsumption.  Do we really need all this stuff? A purist would argue that a conscious consumer would attempt to live a minimalist life with few possessions and donate to charity instead of gifting ethical products. Phillip Haid explains that these purist myths are misled. He argues that business and social purpose can co-exist, as we are seeing with the rise in social enterprise.

A good example of this is ThankYou. Starting out with bottled water before expanding to other consumables, they have drawn attention to Australia’s tendency to buy bottled water, depsite having access to some of the best tap water in the world. A purist would argue that they perpetuate the ridiculous idea of buying bottled water in Australia. A conscious consumer might point out the irony – if one is going to buy bottled water it may as well be the social enterprise cutting through established brands in a competitive market. Through their product range, ThankYou (a social enterprise) drives profits for santiation, water access and other aid projects around the world. Unlike the distrust building in charitable giving, customers can now use a unique identification code to track the progress of the project their sale contributed to. Although, colleagues of mine have raised valuable lines for futher enquiry, in particular that relating to the actualities of the profit margin donated to aid projects once production costs are covered.

We cannot solve everything; not overnight and not in one festive season. This festive season, if giving gifts is your love language, consider sourcing ethical gifts. Below is a list of some of my favourite providers to get you started.

Eat Me Chutneys, as their website proudly explains, they actively remove the beauty contest standards out of fresh food consumption. $10billion of food is wasted in Australia each year and almost half of that is fresh food. Combining food wastage and spices from India and Paraguay, with employment opportunities for disadvantaged female job seekers, this family-run social enterprises guarantees all round good feels when the flavoursome chutneys and pickles touch your lips.

Bueno Apparel. T-shirts are a staple to any wardrobe, making them arguably one of the most competitively priced products on the market. With Bueno Apparel you can be assured that your garment is ethically made, as they strive to make living in a world without poverty possible in our lifetime.

Inspirationery is more than just a stationery business. As you jot your ideas and plans for the future, you are helping girls and women around the world gain access to education and leaderships programs. Founded by Cassie Dewar in 2014, from the time of production, to processing your payment and after environmentally-friendly stationary lands in your hands, your purchase has an impact.

Thee One Six  is all about quali-tea (sorry, Nat Foo) not just in the beverage quality, but they strive to have impact even if a profit margin isn’t generated. That’s why Nat Foo sought out to develop Three One Six’s impact model that drives impact from the time of production. Your purchase from the 100% organic range of teas helps to further empower vulnerable communities.

GG’s Flowers in Canberra creates meaningful employment opportunities for people with (dis)abilities. This family-run social enterprise operates a flortist out of their garden shed, with all deliveries made by little sister, Gayana who has down-syndrome. This Christmas GG’s Flowers has teamed up with fellow social enterprises to create a gift basket of socially-conscious products. Almost too easy to get to know many brands at once doing top work!

If you are still feeling quite overwhelmed, Good Spender is a central platform to source ethical products and gifts. You can search by the cause you want to support, by seller or item type. Learn about who you are buying from and the impact of your spend to include in the card for maximum good feels.

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