How Consumers Are Using The Power of The Dollar To Spur Social Change

It is traditionally assumed that the first way to change society is to change the way it is governed and go the route of laws and senators until something budges. And while this method undoubtedly is an option and often can make huge positive changes, it is slow and increasingly ineffective.

You could also head to a march to make your voice heard. This is a great way to garner support and a voice, but its impact is often not continuous. You can volunteer at any number of amazing organizations, but what if you want to do more every day? Especially in our current political landscape, it is more important than ever to make your voice heard and resist like a boss

As a student of sustainability, a critical issue that comes to mind is the environment, which is a shared and used by everyone in the world. Yet due to the careless actions of some nations (cough cough: us in the U.S.) it’s being destroyed by the few.

Globalization often renders regulations arbitrary, at best, and if a corporation faces certain standards in one nation will face few barriers in outsourcing to another. 

pay it forward

The main thing that companies respond to is cold hard profit.

And who controls the profit that company will make? We do–the consumers ultimately have the final say.

If every single person in America woke up tomorrow and suddenly refused to buy plastic bottles, insisting instead on reusable bottles or other alternatives, you can bet every plastics producer would be scrambling to catch up.

We have seen similar examples in things like the public disavowal of Seaworld following the popular Blackfish documentary showing the mistreatment of the whales and in the backlash against retailers like Nordstrom for selling Ivanka Trump products after the 2016 election.

Nowadays it seems like everyone is an activist, especially online, posting hashtags and reposting articles and changing their cover photos and the like. But as I’m sure we all know, posting on social media is not truly activism until you change your actions in response. So let’s talk about how to be a more active consumer.

Nowadays it seems like everyone is an activist, especially online.

Passive vs. Active Consumer

First I want to differentiate between a passive and an active consumer.

A passive consumer sees information, watches videos online, and maybe retweets an article here or there, but does not change his or her behavior in response. He or she will still purchase the same things we’ve all been trained to buy based on years of brand recognition and routine.

An active consumer sees information, watches videos online, and maybe retweets an article, however adds thoughtful discussion to each of those pieces of information and changes the way that he or she acts in response. An active consumer feels compelled not only by the information he or she is given, but refuses to accept anything less than the whole picture when making a decision. And an active consumer recognizes that when the whole picture is not easily accessible it is almost always in order to obscure something unsavory. Companies with nothing to hide have no problem disclosing their records.

What matters to you?

So think about the things that you value, be it the environment or the Black Lives Matter movement or LGBTQ rights, and assess the purchasing choices that you are making in relation to your values. No aspect of your life is safe from scrutiny. Where was the toilet paper you use produced and how? Does the bank you work with invest heavily in fossil fuels and anti-gay agendas? Was the lettuce you are buying grown using GMO seeds and harsh chemicals? It sounds like a looming task but the beauty of it is that there are more and more alternatives being produced each year and there are just as many positive companies working for the betterment of society as there are those that disregard basic responsibilities.

We cannot sit by passively and wait for someone else to make the change because if everyone does that then nothing changes.

I think the biggest thing we are realizing as consumers in a post-Mad Men era is that we should take nothing at face value. We cannot sit by passively and wait for someone else to make the change because if everyone does that then nothing changes. We are buying things anyways, so why not make those purchases count for something? By choosing one brand over another or choosing to boycott a brand, you are sending a message to the those companies and to the world that you will not be party to the things that they are doing. You can force a company to reexamine their values and choose to support those that have a strong message. So pay it forward, literally, and put your money where your mouth is.