All shopping is not created equal — we all have our preferred soaps and phone brands. I’d rather walk a bit further to my favorite grocery store than the closer one at the end of the block.
Sometimes these choices are based on convenience, familiarity, quality, or price. But how often are they based on the impact they’ll make on the world?
Since I started learning about environmentalism, I’ve discovered the dark sides of products I’d been blissfully ignorant of — like that they come from companies with no regard for the environment, or they’re made by people who don’t get a living wage.
With politics the way they are, it can feel like big business will soon be able to get away with anything. It can all seem unbearable, and it’s not possible to campaign 24/7 — making dozens of phone calls a week or marching every weekend.
So how can I make sure my purchases aren’t undermining my values?
By voting with my dollars.
Voting with your dollars can be done every day. It’s a goal, but it’s flexible.
For example, I buy fair trade coffee. It might cost a dollar more, but I know the farmers who grew those beans in Ethiopia, Colombia, or Peru are making a wage they can get by on. Fair Trade works by paying a premium to producers, which is then reinvested into improving the farm or community.
It’s a start at least. I could take another step and buy coffee from a local business instead of the chain I go to. I also shop at a grocery chain, but I could do better by going to local businesses or farmer’s markets more often. I buy organic dairy and eggs, but if I had a bigger budget I’d go all organic.
When I learned that my bank doesn’t treat customers well — and worse, loans money for fossil fuel projects — I changed to a local credit union. It’s not like I’m making so much that a big bank will miss me. But in a credit union, my money goes into home loans, local businesses, and development I support.
Last fall, during the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, we learned that big banks including Sun Trust and Wells Fargo were giving loans to the company building it.
Now at least I know I’m not supporting that project. And if you write or call your bank when you leave explaining why, they’ll know, too.
We can’t expect ourselves to be perfect, but we can push ourselves to be better.
Sometimes voting with your dollar means keeping it in your wallet. Every dollar you don’t spend on junk is a dollar you can put in a community bank or credit union to finance jobs, housing, and social services that every community needs. Or it can be donated to a charity that helps the less fortunate, combats hate or takes action on climate change.
The organization I work for is trying to build a green economy. That means more than trying to avoid supporting harmful corporations — it means actively supporting businesses that adopt green practices, grow local economies and pay suppliers fairly.
Where you shop and what you buy sends a direct message to business owners. If enough of us shift our spending and investments at once, it can force large corporations to reconsider their supply chains and business practices. And it can help small businesses stay afloat.
It can be hard to feel like your voice matters when you vote. But your money has the power to support Earth-friendly practices, fair wages, healthy food and local economies. It has that power every time you reach for your wallet.
Eleanor Greene is the associate editor of publications at Green America. This piece was originally published by OtherWords.org.