Ok, it’s 2020, and “ethical shopping” is all the rage (especially here at Team Sukoon). But how do you really get started? What does shopping ethically really mean? Is it just a buzzword? Does it have to do with sweatshops? Or with the environment?
It’s a big topic and you’re right to be wondering all of the above. So we had a quick Q&A with Jane Mosbacher Morris, Founder & CEO of TO THE MARKET, and author of Buy the Change You Want to See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the World a Better Place. Jane’s work is driven by the idea that we can each start to shop small, everyday items with a little more intention.
Thanks for joining us today Jane! We love the message of TO THE MARKET: that consumers can create change in the world simply by what we choose to buy. For those new to your work, could you explain why you believe so deeply in this idea?
I am so happy to get to chat with you and so impressed with what you have built! Go girl go.
On the question of voting with your wallet, the credo is bold, but simple! We all spend money on products -- why not harness your purchasing power for good? Most of us don’t realize how much purchasing power we have, and how much it matters. The average American family earns nearly $75,000 a year, and spends nearly $57,000 of that. Half of that goes to housing, insurance, pensions, and health care, leaving nearly $30,000 for things like food, transportation, and non-necessities. That’s a lot of money spent, daily, on things like coffee and groceries!
I believe that our purchasing potential is like an untapped superpower! We might buy a morning bagel at one shop rather than at another because it’s on our route to work, or drop thirty dollars on a gift card for a friend’s birthday. But we can slow down and reflect on these micro-decisions, and make more thoughtful choices.
For mom-and-pop stores in our country and micro-entrepreneurs in the artisan and agriculture sectors around the world, every purchase really matters. These businesses stay afloat because a handful of people or businesses decide each day to buy from them. Your birthday money, if spent on a bracelet made by a cooperative employing survivors of human trafficking, can have huge significance not just to the friend who receives it, but also to the woman who rolled the beads for it.
We love the idea of just slowing down a little to make more thoughtful purchases. At a 30,000 foot view, but what does “ethical” mean to you when it comes to what you purchase?
There is no single certifying body for the word ethical, which can make it pretty subjective! That said, I think about both the environmental and the social (labor) impact of the production process.
In the agriculture sector (think coffee, chocolate, tea), there are a handful of certifications today signifying that what you’re buying was made sustainably— but their exact meaning can be unclear to consumers. Most certifications require a third-party auditor to inspect the farm and processing facility. This can be a thorough investigation that ties up everyone involved for a week and requires showing records of things like seed sources, soil conditions, and weed and pest management approaches. Some of the most well respected certifications for food and beverages include Fair Trade certified, USDA Organic, and Rainforest Alliance.
For clothing, there are far fewer certifications widely available or used. Instead, I do as much research as possible on (a) what country the product was made - do they have strong labor laws?) and (b) what material was it made out of it? An upcycled material? Low impact material? Organic material?
I am going to shamelessly plus my book here because we really dig into this question!
Yes! I recently read your book and it provides a great basis for how to start thinking about ethical buying. Which brings us to our next big question: Fast Fashion.
It can be a pretty polarizing topic these days. We love being on trend...and we love the affordable price tag that Zara and H&M can offer...but these retailers are not the most ethical players in the game. Do you believe there are more ethical alternatives for customers who frequently shop at these kinds of retailers?
Totally. Some of my favorite more price accessible brands include Van’s, Timberlands, Adidas, Gap, Banana Republic, Athleta, and Levi’s. On any given day, you will see me in a pair of Van’s, a shirt from Gap, and some groovy blazer that is Made in the USA from a brand like Veronica Beard.
Even places like Target are making massive strides in their supply chains. More and more amazing brands like yours are emerging with really rich stories about their supply chain (like yours here!).
As customers, it can be difficult to start building more ethical buying practices. Where does one start? Can you outline a 3-step program for making more powerful purchasing decisions?
It can be super overwhelming! I recommend starting by identifying a category that you spend money on - it could be the coffee that is in your office or home. The clothes that you buy for your kids. The presents that you give at the end of year holidays. Or even the companies that you invest in!
Then, think about your values. Are you deeply passionate about the environment? Do you want to support made in America products? Are you drawn towards local or minority owned businesses? Align your cause and your category of choice and then be your own Sherlock Holmes. Literally Google “made in America holiday gifts” or “women-owned coffee businesses” and you will be blown away by the number of options that come up.
One of the first changes I personally made was switching to Fair Trade chocolate. I am an advocate for dignified work and also a devoted chocoholic. I made the decision to make sure that the chocolate I carry with me in my purse everyday is Fair Trade certified. It was a very simple and delicious switch for me, which allowed me to sustain the change and ultimately make more.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about your work with our community?
Regardless of your budget, you can be a conscious consumerism. Below are three easy suggestions that don’t cost a dime.
1. Just Say No: Skip the things you don’t actually need, such as layers of tissue paper a cashier might wrap around a new sweater you’re buying before putting it in the bag or paper versions of your bills (who wants those anyway?) that can now be sent electronically. When ordering takeout, you often wind up with an entire second bag of napkins, straws, and little packets of ketchup or soy sauce. Ask for your food without these additions, and use your own utensils and condiments at home instead.
2. BYOB (Bring your own bottle!): Fill a reusable bottle with water rather than purchasing new ones, particularly at places with marked-up prices, like the airport. You can also bring your own mug to coffee shops or the office. (Some coffee shops will even give you a discount, like Starbucks.
3. Become a Bulk Buyer: It may be time-consuming to get started, but most cities have at least one grocery store or chain with bulk sections for nuts, grains, granola, candy, popcorn, etc. Go see what is available that you regularly purchase and commit to (a) switching to scooping out that product from the bulk bin and (b) keeping a plastic or glass container from a food product to fill with it. Once you get the hang of it, add another grocery item to your bulk list. Buying in bulk means fewer plastic containers used, and less money spent.
Some additional resources I love in getting to know your supply chain are:
Thanks so much to Jane for joining us on our blog today!
We'd love your feedback in our comments section below. Did anything surprise you? Did you disagree with anything above? What else do you want to know? Share your thoughts below and we'd love to dig in with more pros in our field!
Jane Mosbacher Morris is the Founder and CEO of TO THE MARKET, a company that connects businesses and consumers to ethically made products from around the world. Clients include Bloomingdale’s, Dillards, and Target and investors include Techstars and Farfetch.
She previously served as the Director of Humanitarian Action for the McCain Institute for International Leadership and currently serves on the Institute's Human Trafficking Advisory Council. Prior to joining the Institute, she worked in the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Counterterrorism and in the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues. Morris is a member of VF Corporation's Advisory Council on Responsible Sourcing (owner of Van’s, Timberland, Wrangler, The North Face, and others). She is also term member at the Council on Foreign Relations.