How ethical are your shopping habits?

Can the way we shop really make a difference or is it just a fad? How can we be more ethical about our spending?

According to a recent study from Co-op, the UK’s ethical consumer spending market is now worth more than £41 billion per year. Ethical spending on items such as energy, clothing, travel and groceries has almost quadrupled over the past 20 years while other household expenditure has remained more or less flat.

The Ethical Consumerism report suggests that ethical spending has risen from just £202 a year  per household in 1999 to a whopping £1,278 in 2018. Ethical food and drink – including free-range eggs, organic items, Fairtrade and plant-based options – is the largest segment, with total spending up from £1 billion in 1999 to £12 billion in 2018.

This is excellent news, as it shows that more of us are considering the environment and the people who produce the goods and services we consume. However, there is still plenty of work to do, particularly in the area of ethical clothing, sales of which total just £49.9 million per year… less than our weekly spend on women’s shoes alone at £62 million! So how can we make better choices as we shop?

  1. Do your research. A little bit of googling could go a long way. Research the brands you currently buy. Do their values align with yours? Where and how are their products made, and do they treat their workers fairly? If not, there are ethical alternatives out there if you’re prepared to look around and make the change. It might take a bit more work than using that same website or supermarket for everything your household uses, but it’ll be worth it to know that you’re making a difference.
  2. Buy local. If you can, stock up from your local high street stores or farm shop. The chances are your money will go into the pockets of smaller, independent and possibly more ethical businesses. This is good news for the economy as well as for local traders. It’s also likely that the goods you’re buying are sourced locally, which means the goods may be fresher and the toll on the environment lower. Of course, it’s important to do your research here as well. You could even do this in person by talking to your local store owners and coffee shop proprietors.
  3. Consume less. One of the main complaints about buying ethical brands is that they tend to be more expensive than the mass-market alternatives. This may be true, but many of us are guilty of buying way more than we actually need. Eating less but more healthily, or buying fewer but better-quality items of clothing can really help. It’s better for the waistline and the over-cluttered wardrobe, not to mention the environment and ethical brand. Do you really need what you’re about to buy?
  4. Plan your shopping trips well. Think about your carbon footprint as you go about your shopping. How are you getting there and back? Remember to take along reusable bags, preferably made from recycled fabric rather than plastic. Even bags for life end up in landfill eventually. Don’t go shopping when you’re cold or hungry or you may end up buying more than you need. Remember that shopping isn’t limited to food and drink. Think about ethical alternatives when you’re planning holidays, switching bank accounts and checking out utilities providers.
  5. Cut down on waste. Why not buy second-hand, make your own items or use websites that allow you to obtain, give away or swap items for free? Although this won’t count toward your ethical spend it reduces waste and limits your spending on less ethical items. Look out for goods that are made from sustainable and biodegradable materials and try to avoid buying anything that is smothered in plastic wrap. Avoid multibuys and just get what you can store easily. That way you’re more likely to use everything you buy, cutting down on waste. If you do end up throwing away food, make sure you compost it. If you have surplus clothing items, give them to people you know or to a homeless shelter or charity shop.

Here’s what Luke 12:33-34 (ESV) says: “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”