The government would never tell you this, but consumer spending power is one of the most powerful agents of political change that we have. To a large extent (but not completely), we have the choice to not spend money on goods and services that adversely impact the environment and we can choose to withdraw our spending from companies that don’t align with our ethical values. Where and how we spend our money matters.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology shows that the things we consume, from food and essentials all the way through to luxury items, are responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and between 50 and 80 percent of total land, material, and water use.
Much of the environmental impact of the goods we buy, is hidden from us way down in the supply chain such as the amount of water that goes into making a hamburger, or the clothing factories that pollute and contaminate water supplies. A staggering 80% of the carbon footprint of a smartphone is generated during the manufacturing process rather than in a lifetime of use. Gold mining for the tech industry is one of the main causes of deforestation in the Amazon. In addition, the extraction process generates mercury and cyanide waste which contaminates river systems and drinking water.
Think before you buy. Switch off those one-click buy settings, relax your trigger finger and ask yourself:
Do I really need this?
Reducing the amount we buy is a win-win. Our drive towards increasing consumtion only means we have to work harder and longer hours to support our spending habits. While many people are barely getting by, there are also a lot of people priviliged enough to have higher incomes. Countries with the highest rates of consumerism, had up to 5.5 times the environmental impact as the world average. Tackling this excess spending should be an easy win – save your money and make do without that spending dopamine quick-hit.
If you do need it, can you buy or get it somewhere second hand?
The Internet has made the circular economy even easier than ever. Before you buy something that you’ve decided you really really need, look for it second hand in places such as: ebay, facebook market place, Gumtree, Freegle, Vinted, DePop, Charity shops, antique centres and second-hand markets.
Remember though – for circular economies to work, we also have to move-on items we no longer use. Make some money by selling on these platforms too, or raise money for good causes by donating items to a local charity shop.
Become an ethical consumer
When you do buy from companies and organisations, choose ones with an ethical stance. From the food on your plate to your energy suppplier, how you manage your spending matters. For example:
- Choose small local businesses over corporate multinationals.
- Ditch companies like Amazon who don’t pay their fair share of tax
- Switch your bank to one that doesn’t invest in fossil fuels
- Change your mobile provider to a company like Ecotalk who re-invest profits in creating nature reserves, or Honest Mobile
- Choose companies that are making a positive difference to the world
Here are Ethical Consumer’s top ten tips for making a positive impact with your spending:
Save yourself time and sign up to the Ethical Consumer web site who do all the research for you, from electric cars, household items, tech and electronics to food – they have it all!