What exactly is meant by sustainable consumption? What kinds of ideas and concepts exist in this field, which make sense and which are just a load of hot air? As part of a broader analysis into sustainable consumption, we took a look, last week, at online charity shopping and the buy one, give one model while yesterday we put the idea of ‘rounding up for charity’ under the microscope.
What did we discover? The buy one give one model (whereby an organisation donates one product to people in need for every product they sell) and found that despite good intentions, often companies that adopt this model provide band aid solutions to a problem. Giving products away for free in many cases does not necessarily address the root causes of poverty and can reinforce dependency upon handouts. Take a deeper look into the topic here.
Online charity shopping platforms, which sees retailers ‘donate’ a portion of a sales money to non-profit organisations as part of an affiliate marketing framework, are unfortunately not really a secret weapon that can be used to substantially improve a charity’s income. This type of fundraising works best, in our view, when it’s used towards financing small, time-limited, straightforward projects and success is heavily tied to how much an organisation promotes this. That’s not to say that taking the small and easy detour via online charity shopping is not worth it when you shop online. Au contraire. Find out more here.
And the idea of rounding up? Just like with online charity shopping, the potential to generate large funds via this method is slim and donations tend to be small, irregular and dependent upon how much time the organisation invests in promoting their involvement in such programmes. In this sense, these micro-donations function as tips: a nice bonus on top of a basic income. This type of fundraising does, however, allow smaller organisations to tap into bigger target groups and thereby expand their supporter base. So if you get the chance to round up for charity, and you can afford to do so, we recommend it.
In among all our research one thing has become clear: if you really want to put your money towards a good cause, the simplest and easiest way to do this is donate it directly to charity. Looking for an applicable project? We have a tip: our donation partner Linux4Africa. This small NGO kits out used computers with free Linux software and installs them in classrooms in Mozambique, Burundi and Kenya, helping students in these countries to learn digital literacy skills and thereby bridging the digital divide! You can donate via RESET – we accept no intermediary fees so 100 percent of your money goes where it’s intended.
But can you still use your shopping budget to influence positive change? Absolutely. We take a look at how.
Swap Charity for Empowerment
Whether it’s through buying LED lights, sustainable fashion or secondhand goods, you can also use your purchasing power to support companies that build ethical practices and eco-friendly measures directly into their supply chain and through this, create positive impact. As the Guardian stated in 2014, ”Major brands in particular say they are keen to build trust in their products by becoming more environmentally and ethically conscious but are prepared only to invest if they can see it will add to the bottom line.” In other words, if companies see that consumers prefer to spend their money on ethical and sustainable products, they too might be willing to adopt such practices.
You may not necessarily be ‘gifting’ or ‘donating’ anything to anyone but supporting companies that provide, for example, fair living wages to workers in developing regions can itself be an effective way to address issues surrounding poverty and access to gainful employment. As stated in the Stanford Social Innovation Review “Business can connect prosperity down the value chain—as companies like Ben and Jerry’s and Stonyfield Yogurt proved decades ago—and thereby create empowerment rather than charity.”
In this sense, the fair trade movement (the idea of paying farmers in developing regions fair prices for their produce) and the principles behind it can assist the decision-making process when it comes to sustainable shopping. Just like a lot of things within the green and sustainable fields, there is a healthy debate as to whether fair trade benefits farmers in developing countries or not (you can read an interesting breakdown of both sides of the argument here). Despite the criticism that fair trade faces, it can be argued that it does facilitate better shopping behaviours (on the part of the consumer) and sustainable supply chain practices (on the part of the producer) and has helped give rise to more boutique forms of ethical and sustainable trade, whether through smaller programmes that are similar to fair trade or through individual retailers who build their entire business, from the customer through the supply chain to the executive branch, upon fair, ethical and sustainable practices. Simply put, being mindful of what lands in your shopping cart pays off.
It’s worth noting that there are still some obstacles that stand in the way of sustainably and ethically-sourced products becoming completely mainstream: namely, price and availability. So-called ‘green’ and ethical products are often priced higher than their conventional counterparts and while this might not be a big deal to people with larger budgets to spend on food and lifestyle products, it does make it more difficult for lower income earners to access these goods. Likewise availability of these products can be key to encouraging more people to shop sustainably (a 2011 report from YouGov in the UK found that 69 percent of adults surveyed would lean more towards buying sustainable products if they were more widely stocked). That being said, online shopping could help overcome this.
And don’t forget that less is more: reducing individual consumption patterns, where possible, also contributes towards a more sustainable world.
Gifts, Gifts, Gifts
In certain parts of the world, shopping, giving and donating are hot topics right now. If you’re looking for a unique gift that is kind to the earth and to the people who made the item, any of the platforms or organisations mentioned above – whether it’s donation or a product that you are looking to give – provide a range of options to suit a variety of tastes and budgets. Looking for further ideas? Take a look through our Act Now article on the subject!
Next in our series on sustainable consumption: we take a look at collaborative consumption and the sharing economy.
Do philanthropy and consumption mix? As part of a broader analysis of sustainable consumption, we will take a look at charity shopping, the sharing economy and put tech tools that help consumers make more sustainable choices to the test. The aim? There’s a lot of hot air, labels, trends and movements when it comes to ‘going green’ but what actually has an impact and what is just marketing? As part of our latest RESET Special, we are on the hunt for proof of concept – check out all the articles in the series here.