It’s always the greatest of ironies. The hippies, wearing the same clothes for a fortnight on end, who don’t believe in shampoo or the capitalist system in general, end up spending more money than the average punter on items. Why? Because the item in question is ethical or sustainable, and they’re paying extra for the privilege and for the easing of the conscience.
Sometimes, ethical choices do cost more. Organic food, for instance. Fair trade coffee can cost more at a café. These higher costs have several factors behind them. One, pure and simple, that paying the right amount for labour does make items more expensive.
The other is that so few people buy organic or fair trade, the prices must necessarily be higher. Once more people get on the bandwagon the prices will go down.
So how can you be ethical and save money at the same time?
The colour of the 21st century will, without a doubt, be green. Choice has an excellent article on the minefield that is sorting out the genuinely green products from those that just claim they are, and if you’re interested in their results, keep an eye on Green Watch, which takes great delight in ousting bogus green companies.
Generally, a lot of products produced sustainably are a similar price to those that aren’t. Obviously this doesn’t go for everything, but household items like detergent or personal items like shampoo will often be a similar price to regular items.
Avoid animal testing
If you’re wearing make-up or using health products, you may want to check whether the company you choose has tested their product on animals. Don’t settle for the claim on the back of the label, do some research. PETA’s Caring Consumer list is a comprehensive guide as to which organisations genuinely fulfill the claim. Again, these companies produce products that are generally equal in price to similar items without such guarantees.
Ask for fair trade
At universities, it is now common practice for the organisation to absorb the cost of fair trade coffee and provide it at the same price as regular coffee. If you’re are associated with an institution that does this, make sure your asking for fair trade. After all, it’s no skin off your nose and no drain on your wallet, so you’re coming out ahead easily. If you’re a giving a multinational your patronage, then ask at the counter. By now, a lot of coffee chains have realized how important fair trade will be for their business. Starbucks, for one, has already made some changes to reflect the changing tide.
Being an ethical consumer isn’t just about buying products that are beneficial, it’s about avoiding those that aren’t. Anyone who read the Herald this week (or is involved at all with Facebook) will know of the new campaign against a big chocolate maker, who appears to be at their devious ways again. In pursuit of the palm oil for their products, the company is having a merry time chopping down rainforests in Indonesia, which isn’t the greatest plan in this age of global warming. In turn many consumers are looking to boycott such products until their concerns are fixed.
Boycotting products (and letting the company and your friends know about it) is an effective way to be an ethical consumer. And it doesn’t cost you a dime.