Here's How To Be An Ethical Shopper
We all want to make the world a better place.
When we imagine doing good, volunteering for nonprofits or donating money may be what comes to mind first. Americans gave $471 billion to charities in 2020 alone.
But when compared with retail sales, which reached a whopping $4.55 trillion that same year, the amount that was donated seems pretty small.
Imagine how much more could be accomplished by directing those trillions of shopping dollars towards organizations that do good. That would be super impactful, right?
Well, we've got good news for you. When we purchase products from companies that are kind to animals and have eco-conscious practices, we are actually doing something similar.
What is ethical shopping?
Improving the world by shopping? It sounds almost too good to be true—but it's not.
Ethical shopping is a movement that seeks to move away from purchasing products that damage the environment and farm animals, instead shifting towards supporting companies with values that are kinder all around.
Though not purchasing from unethical companies is one way to help lessen the harm those companies do, what can also be effective is actively supporting businesses that pay a fair wage, donate to nonprofits, and sponsor projects that better the world.
That’s right: buying stuff can make a real difference.
The fashion industry is a good example of where ethical shopping is already catching on. It’s become common knowledge that fast fashion is generally a big ethical no-no. The pollution the factories create, the mistreatment of workers who are paid inadequately, and the massive amount of waste that accrues when people discard their low-quality clothes all contribute to fast fashion being truly egregious. So, opting to buy from smaller companies that make their clothes in fair and safe ways supports the people who are doing business the right way.
But fashion isn’t the beginning and end of ethical shopping. We can shop ethically for just about anything that money can buy: electric cars instead of ones that use gasoline; produce that is grown locally and organically (or, better yet, veganically); and, of course, vegan, cruelty-free, and clean cosmetics from companies that are working to lessen negative impacts.
When we give our money to companies with practices that protect and improve the planet, we are funding those improvements. Instead of paying for pollution and animal cruelty, we can help undo the negative impacts of pollution, support nonprofits that protect animals, and much more.
So, what about cosmetics?
When we peruse beauty products online or in stores, it can be difficult to know which products might be harmful and in what ways.
Unfortunately, many cosmetics are tested on animals or contain animal products. There may be toxic chemicals in makeup and skincare that are harmful to our bodies. Some beauty brands also use packaging that pollutes the environment.
But by choosing to only support ethical beauty companies, we can ensure that the cosmetics we buy are not only healthier for us, but don’t hurt animals, people, or the planet. What’s more, if we buy from companies that actively work to improve sustainability, help people, and allow animals to thrive, we can contribute even more to positive change in addition to simply avoiding damage.
Ethical shopping tips for beginners
Now that you know what ethical shopping is, here are some tips on how to be as ethical as possible as you peruse stores for your favorite products.
1. Search out reliable sources
It can be difficult to find beauty companies that are totally aligned with your values. At Kinder Beauty, our mission is to help make this search way easier for you. We select only the best and most ethical companies to source products for our monthly boxes and marketplace. All Kinder Beauty partners take responsibility for the planet and its inhabitants. Explore our marketplace to find a wide variety of vegan, cruelty-free, and clean beauty products.
Kinder Beauty does more than just sell ethical products, however. We partner with different charities every year and donate a percentage of all profits towards causes such as animal sanctuaries and organizations that advocate for increased farmed animal protections.
By subscribing to Kinder Beauty, you can learn about other companies that are doing good, too. One of our favorite featured brands is Franklin & Whitman, a clean beauty company that sells high-quality products and is committed to being ethical—including its stellar recycling program that diverts packaging from landfills. The company allows customers to send back empty glass containers, which are then turned into reusable bowls.
Earth Harbor is another cosmetics company that helps protect the planet. Founded by Ali Perry-Hatch, a former humanitarian engineer specializing in global environmental health and toxicology, Earth Harbor is certified Climate Neutral (meaning it doesn’t contribute toward global warming), Plastic Negative (for each piece of plastic the company uses, it arranges for twice that amount of plastic to be removed from marine environments), and 1% for the Planet (giving the equivalent of 1% of gross sales to environmental nonprofits). Earth Harbor’s products are also vegan, cruelty-free, and clean.
Not only are Earth Harbor’s cosmetics ethically produced, but the money you spend is being paid forward to support causes that help save the planet.
2. The perfect is the enemy of the good
As much as we would like our closets, makeup bags, and households to be filled only with the most ethical products, perfectionism has a way of tripping us up as we strive to improve.
In all likelihood, you’ll never achieve a 100% ethical home. What you can do is support companies that are earnestly and effectively working towards bettering the planet.
Decide on what your bottom line is. If environmental protection is the most important to you, then look for brands that have the most eco-friendly policies in place.
If you’re imperfect in your ethical shopping endeavors—say you buy a fast-fashion jacket for a job interview when you can’t afford an ethically produced one—don’t be too hard on yourself. Doing the best you can is a lot better for the Earth than just giving up altogether because you can’t be perfect.
3. Overcome financial barriers one step at a time
For many of us, the biggest barrier to shopping ethically is our budget. Eco-friendly clothing and cars can seem out of reach financially. But it’s possible to make money go farther by purchasing fewer items that are higher-quality and environmentally friendly.
To help get over the financial hump, you can try setting aside a specific amount of money from each paycheck to put towards your ethical shopping efforts. Over time, a small amount can grow a great deal, making it easier to support your values with your purchases.
Try putting all of the money you would have spent on ethically ambiguous impulse purchases in an envelope. Each time you say no to cosmetics at the drugstore, add the cash you would have spent on the item to your envelope. You might find that at the end of the month, you have enough for a fun ethical beauty shopping trip, allowing you to thoughtfully invest in equally fun products that also support your values.
4: Do your research
There are so many companies out there—so how can you decipher which are ethical?
As we’ve already covered, a good starting point is to search out some reliable distributors, such as Kinder Beauty, where you can do your shopping for many products, and from many different companies, at once. One-stop ethical shopping for the win!
But when you’re out there in the wild west figuring it out for yourself, you’ll want to be on the lookout for companies that provide a fair amount of transparency. If a brand isn’t forthcoming about their environmental practices, chances are they have something to hide. Know what’s important to you and look for companies that share those values. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are uncertain about whether a product contains animal ingredients, or if you want to know more about a company’s recycling program.
When you do find a company that you feel good about, stick with them. Do your research, find the ethical brands you love, and then continue to support them for the long haul.
5. Avoid greenwashing
Just because a company says they are ethical or environmentally friendly doesn’t necessarily mean they are. Yes, it's confusing!
Beware of “greenwashing”: when brands give the appearance that they are environmentally friendly without actually taking any positive actions.
It’s no secret that consumers have become more conscious of the impact of their purchases on the world. Unfortunately, many companies want to capitalize on the ethical shopping movement without actually doing the work to help the planet. Terms such as “plant-based” and “natural” are not regulated in the US, so they don’t guarantee anything when they’re included on labels; these products could still contain polluting or harmful ingredients.
Shopping can be a form of voting with your wallet, so don't let this opportunity pass you by any longer. By spending mindfully, you can help create positive change one purchase at a time.
Maya Gottfried is the author of books for children and adults, including Our Farm: By the Animals of Farm Sanctuary and Vegan Love: Dating and Partnering for the Cruelty-Free Gal.