With sustainability and environmental issues currently top of mind for many, it’s important that no individual feels powerless to help make their environment, and our world, a cleaner and safer place to live. While policies do have a huge effect on how corporations operate, there’s another factor that no politician can control that reigns supreme: where consumers put their money.
The most effective way to influence how companies of all sizes conduct themselves globally is to vote with your dollar – that means concentrating your spending on companies that not only offer products you like, but produce those products in an ethical, sustainable way.
Dan Simons, the founder of Founding Farmers, one of the top ten most sustainable restaurant groups in America, offers this advice for those who are passionate about sustainability, green energy and preserving – and improving – the environment.
Prioritize shopping at companies that put sustainability and ethics first
“As with anything involving ethics, it’s easier to just not look and let the blame fall to someone else, but as a consumer, you have the choice to punish those firms that turn a blind eye to abuses,” said Simons. “Founding Farmers is based around the idea that sustainability is more than a goal, it’s a requirement.
We’ve published our efforts, and ensure that our staff is knowledgeable about where our food comes from. When we’re making purchasing decisions, we first weigh how it will impact our community and the environment, and then look at the financial cost – because a healthy planet for our children and grandchildren to live in is priceless.
My hope is that we’ve served as an example to at least a few budding businesses, and they think of us as proof that yes, you can be ethical, sustainable and profitable at the same time. It’s possible, and we’re doing it.”
Spending your dollars first at companies that are transparent and have high ethical standards about their dedication to the environment and sustainability is best. For other companies, where it is not clear, don’t be afraid to ask. The more people ask, the more the message is received, especially if it leads to you closing your wallet and walking away.
Engage in dialogue to influence change…and if you must, boycott
“None of us are perfect, which means that even if we try our best, there will be times when we shop at brands that we aren’t sure about, or even that we know aren’t conducting business in a way that aligns with our personal ethos – unless you never plan on going to a mall again,” said Simons. “But if you find that a brand that you love is doing something unconscionable, you can do something about it.
Before you rant about a boycott, write to them; engage them. Make social media posts and gather other, like-minded individuals to your cause to send a clear message. We’re more connected than we’ve ever been before, so use those resources for good. Brands can and will change if their consumers demand it.”
Nike is a great example of how consumer protests of a company can work. Back in the 1990s, Nike was called out for their use of sweatshops and unsafe working conditions in third world countries. They were met with protests and – more importantly – boycotts of their products. After being forced into heavy layoffs in 1998, the following year the company founded the Fair Labor Association, a nonprofit group that bridges the gap between corporations and human and labor rights activists.
After 600 factory audits, raising the minimum age for employees, and adoption of US OSHA clean air standards worldwide, Nike became the first company in the shoe industry to publish every factory it contracts with, and those workers’ pay and conditions (including those that were being treated unfairly). Nike has continued to push forward on sustainability and ethical treatment and is now a leader in its industry.
“I think no matter what your political or scientific views, everyone can agree that clean air, greenery and a sense of community are important to happiness,” says Simons. “As citizens, we understand that it’s wrong to treat others poorly, especially when we have power over them. Businesses should be held to those same standards – after all, what is a business but a group of people working towards a common goal?”
If you are passionate about sustainability, green energy, preserving – and improving – the environment, consider how and where you spend your money, but also be sure to communicate this, especially to the companies you are not using so the message is loud and clear.
Don’t forget to continue to vote with your vote!
While the 2016 election is over, don’t forget about the upcoming midterm elections in 2018, as well as your local elections and referendums. It’s time to pay attention to what’s getting passed – and funded – and support local politicians to make your city sustainable.
“The community around you is honestly the greatest resource anyone has to spark change,” said Simons. “When we first started Founding Farmers, we weren’t sure that it would work – we aren’t the cheapest, we aren’t 100% organic, and we don’t offer exotic dishes.
However, what is special about us is that our company is founded on the dream of a better world, and we show our love for the community without hesitation. We’ve seen such an incredible response, and you can see that with a lot of brands that express genuine concern and love for those around them, from our local restaurants to brands like Tesla and Patagonia.”
A united community can know no bounds – and that’s exactly what happened in Burlington, Vermont, formerly a manufacturing town, which made waves this month as America’s first city run entirely on sustainable energy. The initiatives that made Burlington’s success possible were spearheaded almost entirely through the municipal government.
So get out and vote, every chance you get. Talk to your neighbors and those around you about what’s important. There are a multitude of opportunities to contribute to change, and steering our country in the right direction must start on the city, town, or even neighborhood level. Who knows, you may even end up in public office!
We all can participate in changing the world. One vote at a time. One dollar at a time.