What It Means to Be a Socially Conscious Consumer

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any. – Alice Walker

Terms like socially conscious, social enterprise and eco-friendly get thrown around a lot. But what do they actually mean? And does it really matter if we buy products and support companies that label themselves as such?

To shed light on this topic, I chatted with Jamie Kopp, a passionate social justice advocate who works at a nonprofit organization in Vancouver that provides settlement services to immigrants and refugees.

For Jamie, being a socially conscious consumer means living with intentionality and realizing that the purchasing decisions we make everyday impact the world, for better or for worse. These decisions include everything from where we shop, to where we bank, to the food we eat, to the financial investments we make, to how and where we travel. And so on.

Why Being a Socially Conscious Consumer Is Good for the World

You’ve probably heard stories of destitute workers, including young children, earning meager wages while working in deplorable conditions. Governments in their respective countries may be unstable, with minimal enforcement of labor or environmental laws.

These workers are left vulnerable to exploitation by unscrupulous foreign employers looking to cut production expenses by paying lower wages and avoiding the environmental regulations that these companies face in their home countries.

Unfavorable and downright unethical business practices take many other forms too. For example, opening fake customer bank accounts, discriminating against certain races or genders in the hiring process and using harmful ingredients.

But fortunately, no matter what issues you care about most, you can impact them meaningfully through your spending power. “Money talks” is not a meaningless cliché. Where you put your dollars, or whatever your currency is, matters!

Withholding your money from companies whose business practices you don’t support is a direct cut to their sales, and ultimately to their bottom line. And while our individual decisions are powerful, Jamie challenges us to encourage our peers too. Think about how we can multiply the impact when others follow our lead!

How to Be a Socially Conscious Consumer

Inevitably you’re thinking, “Okay that sounds nice. But products that come from ‘socially conscious’ companies are way more expensive.” In some cases, that may be true. But Jamie says oftentimes it’s simply a matter of analyzing price vs. value.

Think about those $100 name-brand shoes you bought. Did the manufacturing company pay workers fair wages? Were the shoes sourced from sustainable materials? If not, look into shoes that are manufactured with social good in mind. The price actually may be similar to your name-brand shoes. In one case you’re paying for the brand name and in the other you’re paying to support vulnerable communities and the conservation of the earth.

And it’s inspiring to see that more and more often, you can get the best of both worlds! Considering 91% of millennials say they’ll switch brands to benefit a cause they believe in, our consumer demands are forcing popular name-brand companies to modify their business practices.

If you’re more in the $30 shoe range though, then yes, some socially conscious products may be significantly more expensive. In those cases, look for quality second hand and consignment shops. If nothing else, you can help recycle items that otherwise might end up in a landfill.

Or DIY! For instance, grow your own herbs or make your own soap. You can source eco-friendly, organic (no chemicals) ingredients yourself at lower cost than buying these products in the store.

How to Find Socially Conscious Companies

Use the internet and social media hashtags to search for brands using terms like “triple bottom line,” “B corporation,” “social enterprise,” “social good,” “socially conscious,” “eco-friendly,” “fair trade,” “social impact,” “social responsibility” and “sustainability.”

You’ll quickly find lots of businesses doing amazing things to make a positive difference in the world, both locally and globally. And hopefully some are brands you already patronize!

But how can you tell if companies are for real? In whatever way they claim to contribute to social good—whether it’s intrinsic to their mission, through one-off campaigns, or through a corporate social responsibility arm—Jamie says it should be transparent, clear and specific on their website or social media.

Ask brands publicly on social media about their business practices and contribution to social good. (Don’t forget the power of social media to call out brands on their unethical practices too!). Also, ask friends and your social media network for socially conscious brand recommendations.

Jamie encourages shopping at small businesses and farmers’ markets in your neighborhood too. In addition to supporting your local economy, buying local gives you much greater line of sight to business practices versus shopping at stores owned by huge corporations.

Final Thoughts

Of course, you have to pick your battles. Not every product you consume will contribute to social good. You also might discover a brand you thought supported an issue that’s important to you really doesn’t. And sometimes it’s hard to cut through the fancy marketing to find the truth. Nevertheless, making one socially conscious choice is better than nothing!

Also, Jamie urges us to instill a socially conscious mindset in children by teaching them how to be passionate advocates for social good. Additionally, she would love to see regulation requiring companies to disclose more information about their business practices.

If you haven’t already, start getting familiar with unfamiliar socially conscious brands, and reconsider trusting the trusted name-brand products that may be harming you, the people you care about, and the entire world we live in!

Want to learn more from Jamie? Follow her on Instagram: @jayjay_world1