If there is a single action in your life that reflects your ideals and values, it’s where and how you spend your money. When we talk about change, especially regarding environmental and social issues, we talk about voting, becoming more politically engaged, and volunteering our time. These are excellent ways to make a difference in our society; however, there is one mode of change which bears more power in our society than any other—the dollar.
As citizens of the world in a largely capitalist society, it can be argued that our most powerful role is as consumers. Many social and environmental problems faced today have a root cause in the drive for businesses to turn a profit. If the global impact was taken into account, there would be no food shortages, pollution, global warming, or resource depletions. However, for the time being, there is no motivation for a company to consider these costs if their primary mission is to generate profit. This means that in order to create change in regard to big business and the environmental and social issues related to them, there are two options. The first is to create political and societal changes which would mitigate the importance of money in our system. The only problem with this option is that it would take decades, even centuries, if it is at all possible in the first place. That leaves the second: use our abilities as consumers to change what and how companies produce goods in order to make a profit.
Effective examples of this can be seen in a number of companies which have put a stronger emphasis on social responsibility because of increased pressure by consumers. For example, in the grocery industry, consumers have created a high demand for organic foods and socially responsible retail as demonstrated through the growth of Whole Foods Market. Despite the higher prices of organic goods, Whole Foods grew at a rate of 5 percent a year from 2000–2004. The choice to purchase these higher priced foods by consumers also forced competitors to expand organic food selections. Overall, the increased market for organic products decreases the amount of harmful chemicals used in farming, thereby reducing soil and air pollution.
With the simple act of spending a dollar, you tell the world what practices are or are not acceptable. Are you by about the destruction of forests? Buy recycled paper. Do you disagree with the treatment of coffee farmers? Buy fair-trade coffee. Do you agree that global warming and other environmental damages are caused by our world’s ever-growing oil consumption? Use biodiesel or less oil dependent modes of transportation. With websites like KnowMore.org, GoodGuide.com, and GreenerChoices.org, it’s easy to find out, beyond your wallet, the true costs of your purchases. With a little bit of time spent researching where your money is going and consciously making decisions when shopping, you can make a positive change.