We live in a fast food, fast fashion, and fast furnishings world. Today, everywhere you look there is an abundance of low cost and low-quality products constantly being pushed on us. As the relentless drumbeat of consumerism continues, urging people to buy now and buy more, the idea of purchasing with purpose becomes critically important. Many people are pausing to ask themselves if the products they buy reflect their views and their values, and questioning what kind of impact these products have on world we live in.
Consumers are now making a statement about their values by choosing where to invest, what companies to support, and what products to buy based on the social impact of those organizations. Millennials are adopting socially responsible investing strategies and actively use their dollars to create positive change on a wide range of global issues. For me, purpose and values are a consideration when making any decision – from implementing social impact programs throughout my career, to the choices I make daily about products I eat, wear and purchase for my family. It’s important to carefully examine where the products I use come from, and recognize the real-world implications that my purchase decisions have on the planet.
Since it’s not always easy to connect the dots between a product and its true origin, it’s exciting to see that more companies are embracing creative ways to track the social impact of consumption and financial decisions. One example is Aspiration, a socially conscious fintech startup. The company recently launched a feature inside its banking app that tracks spending, and offers a social impact report of a user’s monthly consumption. Aspiration measures both how a company treats its employees, and how it treats the planet. Using a proprietary algorithm called AIM (Aspiration Impact Measurement), Aspiration generates a Sustainability Score that tracks the positive impact of users’ shopping choices.
To navigate the complex landscape of sustainable and ethical companies, there are apps that help you figure out how “green” a company really is. One example is Good on You, an app that rates brands based on positive industry leadership, transparency and “negative citizenship.” They look beyond certifications like Fair Trade, OEKO-TEX STeP and the Global Organic Textile Standard to identify how “good” a company really is. Another is Buycott, an app with millions of users that allows you to scan a barcode to see a product’s history. With this app, you can also join campaigns for causes you care about – like supporting Fair Trade, or boycotting animal testing, among other issues.
Understanding the impact of a product is one thing, but finding ethical and sustainable product alternatives is another. DoneGood is an app and Chrome browser extension that allows you to shop as you normally would, but provides suggestions with similar alternative brands that pay their workers well, alleviate poverty, help preserve the environment, or have positive social impact in other ways. True to its tag line, “Buy Less, Choose Better,” Orange Harp connects people with sustainable brands that focus on high-quality apparel, and shares stories about these conscious companies’ social responsibility efforts. What’s more, Orange harp donates 1% of all sales to Not for Sale, to help end modern-day slavery in the garment industry.
If you want to track the sustainable practices of food providers going all the way back to the farm, new technologies including blockchain and smart sensors may soon help. It is not always easy to determine the origin of food found in grocery stores, as labels do not necessarily shed light on the issue. For example, most consumers are unaware that something can be labelled “organic,” even if it is not pesticide-free, chemical-free or GMO-free. With the invention of non-invasive smart food sensors, it’s possible to monitor food along its entire journey from farm to table. Moreover, the rise of blockchain enables data from food sensors to be recorded in a way that prevents misrepresentation. This allows for a new level of transparency, which could go a long way to improve the integrity of our food system.
Finally, it is now possible to find brands that are actively working to reverse the lifestyle to landfill cycle. A great example is eco-friendly furnishings company Pentatonic, which creates a line of furniture made entirely from post-consumer waste. Rather than abiding by the standard of using virgin materials to create short-lived home products, the company takes the reverse approach and relies on glass, plastic, and metals that are already in the “waste stream” of human trash. Pentatonic products come with a lifetime buy-back guarantee, which enables them to be recycled once again.
It’s probably idealistic to think that we can completely walk away from the culture of consumerism, but we can certainly take a step in the right direction by making a conscious decision to purchase from companies with clean supply chains, that provide fair wages and healthy working conditions, and that support sustainable practices to protect our environment. Luckily, there are more tools now available to help us make informed choices. As we rapidly approach the holiday gift giving season, it’s important to take a moment to think about the products we buy, and to acknowledge the human cost as well as the environmental and social impact of every purchase we make.
This story originally appeared on Michelle Crozier’s LinkedIn page.
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