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What is ethical consumerism?

Imagine you were a business person trying to be green, sustainable, ethical and moral?  What if your customers began to ask tough questions like: is the manufacture of your product harmful to the environment?  Did the manufacturing process of your product exploit any group of people?  Does the shipping of your product produce a huge carbon footprint?  Is the selling of your product a one-way transaction…goes out to the consumer for profit but nothing goes out to the community-at-large in the way of charity?  Is purchasing your product good for anyone beyond the end user and your profit?

These are questions I pondered after I read about Oakland, CA textile artist Hiroko Kurihara.  Contra Costa Times writer Kathryn Loosli Pritchett wrote about Kurihara’s promotion of ethical consumerism through her business practices.  On her website Kurihara says that “…We strive to foster conscientious consumerism, encouraging people to consider the global and local impact of all their purchasing decisions….”  For every product sold, Kurihara “…donates a blanket or scarf to someone who is homeless or in transition; arranges for a tree to be planted; or gtives a pillow to a nursing mother needing support….”  Further, the items donated are “…made from recycled polar fleece or organic cotton….”  Her textiles products for sale are made from “…ecologically certified…” lightweight European virgin wool.

There is a very illuminating website that is the UK’s leading alternative consumer organization, Ethical Consumer Research Association“…dedicated to the promotion of universal human rights, environmental sustainability and animal welfare….”   The site offers a thoughtful list of five things to think about as a consumer: (1)consume less…(2)get campaigning…(3)shop locally…(4)ethical money…(5)recyling and second-hand….it’s worth reading these tips and measuring your shopping habits.

As business people – whether your business is huge, lots of employees and many products, or is a direct selling business with you as business owner and you represent one or many products or services…do you promote ethical consumerism?

I thought about this question and applied it to my own business.  One of my reasons for choosing the company I’m with as my income opportunity, was that corporately it made the decision to have its impact on the harvesting of the acai berry in Brazil be a positive one.  Not only does harvesting the acai berry save the tree, it helps save the rainforest.  These trees grow wild in the rainforest of Brazil.  Previously they were cut down for a small amount of “heart of palm;” this destroyed the tree, it did not recover or grow back.  Harvesting the acai berry saves these trees. 

It also benefits the local population as the people who harvest the berries are paid more than they were for cutting out the tree’s heart.  And, as more trees are saved and harvested, more income is injected into those local economies. 

Before I became an independent distributor and started my own business, I was a customer.  I was highly impressed by the company’s standards and values in wanting to contribute to saving the rainforest, helping the local communities where the berry grows and their decision to embrace the wild nature of this fruit.  Also, the “giving back” to the people of Brazil through the M.O.R.E. Project, to me, is part of the idea of “ethical consumerism.” 

Readers, what is your response, as business owners or as consumers, to this idea of ethical consumerism?

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