Eco Knowledge

How to Shop Ethically

My personal “ethical buyer-archy”

A LOT of what I see on my LowWasteLottie Instagram account is people telling you businesses that you shouldn’t purchase from, or things you shouldn’t buy. It’s rare that I see people telling you what to buy instead of what to avoid.

My personal ethical shopping hierarchy isn’t ranked, but I do keep a list, and I try to find a product that hits on as many as possible of the “ethical checklist” that I’ve mentally created.

What’s my ethical checklist? In an ideal world, when shopping for a product, it would meet as many of these criteria as possible:

  • The product is from a business owned by a person of color, or a woman (or both!)
  • The product is from a carbon-neutral or carbon-negative business
  • The product is from a certified B-Corporation
  • The product is made from recycled or sustainably-sourced materials
  • The product is designed to be recycled at the end of its life, not sent to landfill
  • The product or business creates opportunities for employment for individuals that may not have them otherwise
  • The product is made locally, or from another small business
  • The product is cruelty-free or vegan
  • The product or business has a give-back business model, where your purchase donates money or products to a community in need
  • The product is secondhand

You can add, subtract, or mix up my list in a way that suits you, and you can choose based on criteria that aren’t normally on your list. For example, I’m more likely to shop from a skincare brand if they use a diverse group of models in their advertising, and don’t use photoshop. There isn’t a concise way to represent that as a criteria, but if I’m picking between two products sometimes I’ll take a look at who they’re using in their marketing. 

As a woman, and someone who deeply cares about individuals with disabilities, sustainability, and equal rights, I am apt to buy from businesses who prove they care about the planet and all its people. You may have different priorities on your ethical checklist based on your personal lived experiences and priorities. For many people that follow me here, your number one priority may be finding something made from post-consumer plastics.

If you have no idea where to start on your list, pick one thing you value. For example: “It’s important to me to decrease the gap in racial inequality”. Great! Next time you’re shopping for anything, just search “black-owned [product]” and scroll through your options. You can increase your list as time goes on, and you recognize your values more easily. Once you have a list going, you may notice that one value is more important than another, then you can start your search there!

At its core, ethical shopping is about knowing where your products come from, who made them, and what will happen to the product when you’re done with it. If you can’t answer those questions, the odds are that you’re not shopping ethically.

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