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#ConsumerCorner: Can I really be an ‘ethical consumer’?

Circular Fashion Concept
By Paul McCaffrey
31 October 2023
Consumer Industries
Green & Good (ESG and Impact)

Next week marks the start of Ethical Consumer Week; a week focused on ‘what role consumer activism can play in creating thriving communities’.

Like all good Gen X’s I try to play my role in being a more ethical consumer. I tend to buy from brands that have a ‘good’ ethical record and where possible, I avoid those that do not.

However, I often wonder how much price drives purchase power against a background of economic uncertainty. It’s not always cheap being ethical.

We all know that buying organic is better for the planet and to try to avoid food miles, but how much can we engender change by what we put in our baskets?

For years I didn’t really think about the brands I bought. I would happily buy from Coca-Cola and Amazon and not really think of the consequences.

Like everyone, l am becoming increasingly conscious of how global warming and climate change poses a dire threat to society and indeed our planet.

We’ve certainly come a long way and how we shop, recycle, travel and heat our homes has changed dramatically over the last two decades.

More recently, we’ve also managed to wean ourselves off owning endless shelves of movies and music collections, preferring to stream our favourites.

But one area we still seem to struggle in is changing our wardrobe habits.

The fashion industry has a significant environmental impact as the second largest consumer of water and responsible for around 10% of global emissions.

That’s greater than all international flights and maritime shipping emissions combined, and it’s why I’ve made the change is the way I buy fashion.

I am definitely guilty of feeling the “high of the buy”. If there is a new collection, or limited collaboration I want it.

With the continuous evolution of online shopping – my current recommendations are Vestiare and Vinted – I can get those highs even more easily.

But where we all need to do more to can change habits is what we do when we’re done with the things we have bought?

Being an ethical consumer can start with the smallest of actions. From refilling that soap bottle to buying a 2nd hand air fryer, we can all make a difference.

For me, I have started using Freecycle to get rid of unwanted household goods. The sofa I would have once taken to a tip is now sitting in the living room of a newly married couple in Stoke Newington. They were thrilled, and I got to forward something on that I have enjoyed, for free.

I am not naïve to think I will change habits overnight. I will still want to buy the latest trend. But the next step would be making sure I pass those clothes on when I no longer need them.

In the words of Tesco, where, ironically I try to shop less and less these days in line with my new shopping habits, ‘every little helps’.