In the age of corporate bailouts, companies “too big to fail,” global worker exploitation and industry-driven climate change, I admit to at times feeling helpless as an individual seeking to make a meaningful difference in the world.
How could I drive positive change in the face of systems rigged to favor profits at the expense of human health, well-being and dignity?
How could I, a 5'4" girl who loves musical theater and little to no resources to speak of, take on the biggest and baddest corporations of the world?
After duly indulging these feelings of hopelessness and despair, I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants and figure out what I could do to make a difference.
While today I am lucky enough to work for a company that has values that align with my own, I realize that not everyone can do the same. What we all can do, though, is think about the decisions we make every day, and how we can make them better.
We all share something in common; we’re consumers.
From the groceries we eat to the clothes we put on our backs, the decisions we make about what and what not to buy impact the world in which we live.
As Olivia Wilde, actress and cofounder of Conscious Commerce, likes to say, “Your dollar is your vote.”
By choosing to spend money on products we believe in, we can not only make a difference in the world, but we can also send a powerful message to corporations that we don't support.
This line of thinking, popularly referred to as “conscious consumerism,” is on the rise, especially amongst Millennials. We, more than any generation before us, care deeply about where our products come from and the effects they have on our society.
We are also more likely to research a company’s business practices before making a purchase. These trends pressure corporations to adopt socially-beneficial practices and create an environment where socially-responsible companies can thrive.
Even so, maybe this whole conscious consumerism thing is a little bit new to you. Where should you start?
Here’s my easy, three-step guide to becoming a feel-good, socially-conscious consumer:
1. Know Your Cause
What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? For me, that’s women’s equality and empowerment. I love to support companies that create opportunities for women around the world.
(Full disclosure: this is what the company I work for, Indego Africa, is all about.)
2. Do Your Research
Once you know what you care about, it’s time to do the research. What companies are out there, supporting causes you are passionate about?
How are they doing it and are they doing enough? (If not, looks like you just got the next big startup idea…) There’s also due diligence to be done on the companies where you already shop.
How are their products made? What (if any) socially-responsible programs do they invest in and how serious is that investment?
You may have to dig deep, but finding out answers to these questions can help guide your purchasing decisions in whatever way makes most sense for you.
3. Spread It Around
Now that you have this knowledge, be a pal and share it with your friends. As the social media generation, we have the unique ability to spread information quickly and to large groups of people — good or bad.
We can use these platforms to amplify our voices when we want to, amassing our collective power to promote companies we love or call out corporations for their sub-par actions.
By 2017, Millennials will have more spending power than any other generation (totaling more than $10 trillion over the course of our lifetimes).
But, with great power comes great responsibility. What issues do you care about? What kind of world do you want to leave to your children?
By simply asking ourselves these questions, we’re already one step closer to making a difference.
Let’s spend that $10 trillion wisely, friends!