Today, shoppers face more choices than ever before. Making a purchase can involve choosing between a high and low price, a specialty item or a generic solution, or buying just enough for now or buying in bulk. And sometimes, shoppers even need to consider their personal and ethical values.
Ethical shopping has been a rising topic for some time now. The phrase “vote with your dollars” has even become a common rallying cry for making ethical decisions with daily purchases. However, as ethical shopping is a broad and sometimes complex topic, it can be difficult to know where to get started.
Fortunately, making ethical purchases is well worth the benefits it can bring to your local community and the world at large. Plus, some methods of ethical shopping can be easily added to your normal shopping routine.
Here at ShopRaise, we aim to give individual consumers the tools they need to make ethical shopping decisions. To help supporters like you make the world a better place, all while going about your daily shopping routine, we’ve created this guide to go over the fundamental principles of ethical shopping and provide shoppers with seven strategies to improve their purchasing habits.
Ethical Shopping FAQ
What ethical shopping means to you might be different than what it means to the person behind you in the checkout line. Having questions about this topic is normal, and our FAQ will answer a few of the essentials.
What is ethical shopping?
Consumers shop ethically when they make purchases that support causes that align with their beliefs and morals. This can include shopping sustainably, shopping for a cause, or even shopping to raise awareness.
Ethical shopping will look different to different supporters based on their values. For example, a vegan shopper may refuse to buy any animal-related products, including leather furniture and clothing, in the name of shopping ethically. By contrast, another vegan shopper with a less strict lifestyle may buy vegan food products, but otherwise focus more on making purchases that support local causes that aren’t necessarily animal-related.
What brands and retailers are ethical?
Brands want to appear ethical and show that their morals align with their buyers’ values. However, some brands are more transparent about their business practices on their products’ labels than others.
You can identify ethical brands and retailers using a variety of criteria, but the most common characteristics to look for are:
Sustainability. Brands with products that are biodegradable, made out of recycled materials, or otherwise environmentally friendly demonstrate a commitment to sustainability. Some brands also donate to environmental protection groups or go out of their way to ensure unnecessary plastics and other harmful materials aren’t used in their products.
Commitment to charitable causes. Many businesses have a philanthropic mission to give back to causes that align with their values. These organizations donate a portion of their profits to nonprofit organizations and charitable causes ranging from local schools and food banks to enterprise-level organizations.
Safe and fair employee work conditions. Some brands treat their production line workers better than others. Brands with a commitment to safe and fair work conditions treat all employees equally and humanely.
You can research ethical brands and retailers by looking them up individually or using online ethical shopping apps (like ShopRaise!) to ensure you’re making ethical purchases. That way, you can spend less time researching and more time shopping.
What impact does ethical shopping have?
Ethical shopping allows everyday shoppers to make a positive impact and support the causes they feel strongly about. Based on your personal values, you can shop while helping a variety of causes, including:
- Supporting local nonprofits.
- Supporting local businesses.
- Fighting animal cruelty.
- Protecting the environment.
- Supporting workers’ rights.
When a significant number of shoppers come together to support ethical brands and their products, real change can happen. Reports show that thanks to ethical shopping choices, child labor rates have dropped by one-third, 61% of fashion companies have committed to using sustainable fabric, and 56% of shoppers have reported that they stopped buying from brands they feel are unethical. Together, ethical shoppers can make a difference!
7 Ethical Shopping Strategies
There are many ways to shop ethically, and some methods may be more practical than others, depending on where you live, your budget, and the products you need to buy. To help you find an ethical shopping strategy that works for you, here are seven ways to make a difference while shopping:
1. Participate in a shop for a cause program.
There are a variety of programs that allow consumers to support good causes while shopping, including charity brands, charity credit cards, and more. While some of these programs limit what shoppers can buy, there is one program that provides the freedom to make any online purchase at no additional cost: ShopRaise.
ShopRaise allows consumers to shop more ethically by contributing a percentage of the sales totals from everyday purchases to a nonprofit, school, team, or other charitable organization. This also means you can support your favorite causes without spending any additional money.
To get started with ShopRaise, all you need to do is download the app or enable the browser extension when making purchases at participating retailers. Then, after checking out, the amount contributed is calculated and sent to your nonprofit of choice!
ShopRaise allows consumers to navigate around three of the most common hurdles to ethical shopping: access, price, and flexibility. You can use the app or browser extension when shopping at a variety of popular retailers, meaning you don’t need to go out of your way to buy what you need and shop ethically at the same time. You’ll pay the same prices and be able to take advantage of the same sales and coupons that you would normally.
Plus, ShopRaise offers a gift card fundraising option as of 2023. When you download the legacy online shopping fundraiser app, you automatically gain access to the Gift Card Store. The digital gift cards you buy are delivered to your inbox within minutes of purchase, eliminating the paper and plastic waste that comes with physical gift cards. You can then forward the email to a friend or family member to give them the gift card, and a portion of your purchase will go directly to the organization of your choice.
2. Buy from ethical brands.
Some brands make it a priority to have ethical products and business practices. While most of us have heard about particular brands to buy from and avoid, it can be hard to remember which one is which in the middle of your routine shopping trip.
Brands also know that consumers value ethical practices and will do their best to present their products in a good light. Of course, positive packaging doesn’t always translate to ethical business practices.
To ensure you’re buying from ethical brands, research brand names to get answers to these three questions:
Are they verified by third-parties? Certifications and seals of approval from third-party organizations can vouch for a brand’s ethical practices. If you see a symbol on a product, try searching for it online. We’ll go over what labels to look for and how to read them later in this article.
What’s in the news about them? When you research a brand online, do any news stories come up? In some cases, you might find stories about them launching a new product line that donates some of its proceeds to charity, while in others, you may discover an exposé about some more questionable practices.
Are they openly supporting any causes? Some brands have partnerships with charities, schools, and nonprofits. Most organizations will want to publicize these relationships, so you should be able to find information about their connections relatively easily.
Additionally, you can use an online shopping app to ensure you’re buying from retailers who will contribute a portion of your purchase to a good cause. When you buy from ethical brands through an online shopping program, you can ensure that you’re supporting brands and retailers that align with your values.
3. Shop local.
Buying from local businesses keeps your local economy alive and vibrant. Supporting these businesses over chains can be an easy way to shop ethically without leaving your neighborhood. While you may need to go to specialty shops and larger stores for specific items, you can regularly buy local with:
Local products at grocery stores. If you live in a more rural area, local grocery stores may support nearby farmers in your community by selling their products. Look for items marked "local" when choosing your produce. Plus, you might also be able to participate in a grocery fundraising program to support local nonprofit organizations.
Farmers markets. Farmers markets aren’t available everyday, but when they are, make the most of them to buy fresh local produce that supports your community and is high-quality. Additionally, most farmers markets also have a variety of other unique products that represent your community’s culture.
Restaurant sponsorships. Schools, teams, and nonprofits often partner with restaurants to fundraise for their cause. During a restaurant sponsorship, the restaurant and the organization they’re supporting choose a night where a portion of the proceeds go to the restaurant and the rest goes to the organization they’re sponsoring. If you see a local restaurant planning a sponsorship night, consider eating out that evening!
Be sure to check out if any of your local businesses have online stores. If they do, you can make your purchases from the comfort of your own home while also ordering from larger businesses for items that aren’t available locally. In turn, you’ll save travel time while still supporting your community.
4. Thrift and buy used.
Many perfectly usable items often get donated to thrift stores and secondhand shops. While it can be tempting to buy a shiny new version of whatever product you need, it’s always more sustainable to buy something that already exists.
While certain items have to be bought new to be valuable, more products can be bought secondhand than you might first assume, including:
- Musical instruments
- Sports equipment
Check out your local thrift and secondhand stores to see if they have anything that needs a new home. Plus, for those on a budget, thrifting can be a convenient way to shop ethically while also saving money. Then, when you’re done with your own possessions that are still in good quality, you can consider donating them to help out another future shopper.
5. Recycle when possible.
When you buy something, think about how you’ll use it and if or how you’ll eventually throw it away. Ethical shopping considers every part of a product’s life from its initial manufacturing to how it will be disposed of.
In elementary school, many of us were taught the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. Now, as a responsible consumer, these principles can help inform your shopping in a meaningful way. Before purchasing a product, ask yourself:
How long will this last? Some products are built to last. High quality items that you’ll use again and again are a good investment for both you and the environment.
Can this be donated? Items like clothes, books, and toys can be donated to nonprofits, shelters, libraries, schools, and churches to help your community. As mentioned, you can also help other ethical shoppers with their own thrifting by donating lightly used items to secondhand shops when you’re done with them.
Will this biodegrade? If an item will get thrown away, how long will it take to biodegrade? Some items, such as food waste, can be composted in days or weeks, providing an extra service for those with gardens. By contrast, items like plastic bags and styrofoam cups will never biodegrade.
Judging whether an item is recyclable requires assessing both your own personal need for it and the science behind recycling. For example, if you plan to buy a sturdy plastic bucket to help wash your car, you’ll likely use it for years to come. Purchasing products like this still follows the first of the three Rs by reducing your need.
6. Learn to read labels.
Shoppers can make ethical purchasing decisions by looking out for key product labels to inform their choices. However, many shoppers aren’t sure what labels to look for as surveys report that 68% of Americans are confused by various labels and icons that are used to represent ethical products.
While shopping, be on the lookout for labels that show the brand you’re buying from is operating ethically. Here are a few to be on the lookout for:
Fair Trade Certified and Fair Trade Foundation. Fair Trade Certified and Fair Trade Foundation labels indicate that a product meets certain environmental, economic, and social standards. These include having safe work environments, transparent trade relations, and a commitment to minimizing environmental impact. Fair Trade Certified applies to agricultural goods, while other products can receive approval from the Fair Trade Foundation.
Cruelty Free International. The Cruelty Free International bunny indicates that a product was not tested on animals at any point in the supply chain. Brands with this label undergo ongoing independent audits to ensure cruelty-free practices are being followed.
Certified Vegan. Products labeled Certified Vegan must not have been tested on animals or contain animal products or byproducts. This applies to food items as well as clothing, furniture, and other products that may use fur, leather, skins, and other animal products.
USDA Organic. To be considered organic, products must meet the USDA’s crop standards, which include having no prohibited substances in the soil used to grow the product, using only approved pest removal substances, taking preventative measures to ensure animals are healthy, and many other requirements.
Various Environmental Labels. There are many different environmental verifications products can have, including labels of approval from the Rainforest Alliance, Globally Recycled Standard, Cradle to Cradle, Bird Friendly, The Global Organic Textile Standard, and more.
If you’re having trouble finding information on a specific brand, look for these and other labels certifying a product meets certain ethical standards. When shopping, search on your phone for a cheat sheet of key labels that apply to the type of products you’re buying to make your purchasing decisions easier and more ethical.
7. Consider participating in boycotts.
Sometimes ethical shopping is about avoiding certain brands just as much as it’s about shopping at good ones. Consumers have the power to put pressure on brands with questionable business practices by not buying their goods to encourage them to behave more ethically. In these situations, it might make sense to consider joining a boycott.
Boycotts have been organized by labor unions, nonprofit organizations, and other groups for decades to protest a variety of unethical business practices. You can learn about ongoing boycotts by reading the news and researching brands before making a purchase.
By participating in a boycott, your purchasing options will be limited. This is especially true if the boycott is against a large company that owns many smaller brands. Of course, when you’re avoiding one brand, you can explore other options and start buying a more ethical version of the same product.
Wrapping Up: Learn More About Ethical Shopping
Ethical shopping requires committing to only buying products that meet your moral standards. Sometimes, this might restrict your options or require additional research before making a purchase, but there are reliable alternatives that can make ethical shopping a convenient part of your everyday purchases.
You can change your shopping habits to support good causes by learning about ethical businesses in your community, considering how you can make the most of the items you buy, and getting started with an online ethical shopping app.
To learn more about how you can do good in your community while shopping, check out these additional resources:
Shop for a Cause: How to Give Back While Shopping Online. Online shopping allows supporters to give back to their favorite causes. Learn how you can do more while shopping with this complete guide.
Passive Fundraising: How to Earn Extra Revenue [+5 Ideas]. Interested in supporting a local nonprofit without reaching back into your wallet? Check out these passive fundraising ideas to learn how you can participate.
Online Shopping Fundraisers for Schools: How to Get Started. Learn how you can support your local school through your daily shopping with this guide to online school shopping fundraisers.