Are you a socially responsible consumer?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll have noticed how the global recession has forced companies to try harder than ever to win your attention and your hard earned cash. While tough economic times make us all very cautious of how we spend our money, it also offers the perfect ground for the bargain hunters amongst us.

But is a good deal the only deciding factor when you go shopping? Do you know what lies behind that £3 T shirt at Primark? Should you care?

Undoubtedly, because everything we buy has a social, economic or environmental impact, positive or negative. You could be inadvertently encouraging unnecessary animal testing by choosing a specific brand of cosmetics, for example. On the other hand, the cup of fair trade coffee you had this morning might be helping the development of sustainable business communities in Costa Rica

Do these choices really matter? Yes, because by considering the ethical value of your shopping, you’ll ultimately make the world a better place for you, your family and your friends

Not convinced? Here’s a (admittedly cynical) example:

Increase the value of your property: by abandoning your local, independent shops in favor of giant supermarkets, you may be killing local trade, diminishing the character of what may have been a bustling shopping street, eventually making the whole area less attractive in property value terms. Look at what’s happened to property values in previously neglected areas of London such as Hoxton and Shoreditch as the local community has thrived

Of course, supermarkets are convenient and cheaper. But, if you remain loyal to smaller, non-chain shops, not only will you get more personal, knowledgeable service, find higher quality and more exclusive products, but it will also do no harm to the market value of your neighborhood

NMTBP gives you 5 everyday choices you can make as an ethical consumer:

1 – Food

Look for fair trade brands. You’ll be surprised at how affordable prices are. The Fairtrade certification ensures sustainable livelihoods for producers and workers in developing countries by negotiating better trading conditions

When buying fresh ingredients, try sticking to seasonal ones. This ensures your food has been produced within reasonable distance and offers the best possible nutritional value. Is it really worth eating half ripe mangoes that had to fly thousand of carbon-emitting miles to reach your shopping basket?

Try having at least one meat-free day a week. According to a  UN survey, meat production is responsible for 18% of the world’s green gas emissions, MORE even than transport. You may love your bacon too much to become a full-fledged vegetarian, but one out of seven days could be a happy and achievable compromise

Consider composting: if you have even a small garden, start composting your food waste. It’s the ultimate saving tip: every single bit of food is used … and then re-used! If you don’t want to face the task yourself, check if there are local groups that will collect your food waste for composting

2 – Clothes

If you’re shopping at big chains, check their website for a corporate responsibility page. This is becoming increasingly visible on companies’ websites and it will reassure you about the conditions under which their clothes were manufactured and traded. See if they’re a member of CORE, the Corporate responsibility Coalition

Re-use: visit charity shops and yard sales. Vintage really is the new black. What better way to create a unique style, save serious money and give the landfill a welcome break? Attend local Swishing parties and swap your unwanted clothes – they really are great fun

3 – The boring stuff

These days, climate change is a watchword for all our lives. We recycle, try to be very aware of the energy we use, and to keep our carbon footprints small

When it comes to a choice of energy provider, however, those considerations often go out of the window as we look for the cheapest prices. Given the way costs for both electricity and gas have spiralled, that’s understandable

But it’s perfectly possible to be an ethical consumer of energy, too. Utility companies have realised the need to become greener, and have taken steps to either help generate electricity from green sources, like wind power, offering so-called green tariffs to help reduce carbon footprints, funding research into alternative energy sources, or using energy from different renewable sources. Examples include Ecotricity and Good Energy. If you get your energy from a ‘big’ supplier, ask them about their green policies and green tariffs

4 – Good money

Your financial adviser should know of available ethical investments. This could go from pension funds that avoid industries such as tobacco, pornography or gambling, to investment plans working strictly with companies associated with good labour standards, for example

If they can’t try the Ethical Investment Co-operative Limited , an awrd winning firm of Independent Financial Advisers dedicated to ethical and socially responsible investment

Your Ethical Money is a gerat resource for finding ethical banks, pensions, mortgages, insurance and credit cards, while an earlier post on Ethical Investing on NMTBP is great (of course!)

5 – Before you buy

Consider how you are disposing of your old possessions. There are a number of recycling options available. Try Freecycle for passing on anything in good working order. Organize yard sales. Dispose of electronics responsibly: TVs, laptops, mobile phones, as well as batteries, CDs and DVDs contain hazardous material and must be disposed of accordingly. A lot of retailers offer drop-off points for phones and other small items. Next time you replace your washing machine, remember that some shops will collect your old one for free. Look for charities that are willing to take on and repair electronics, to sell it on

You don’t need to take to the streets or make big loud statements to make a positive difference to the world. Lots of small steps add up to big changes. Who’d have thought 10 years ago that Starbucks and McDonald’s would have fair trade coffee on their menus – and at decent prices? It was a move dictated by the power and choice of us – the consumers

Act with your wallet. Buy responsibly; recycle and re-use; buy second hand; save money

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