Skeptical Cents: Putting My Money Where My Mind Is

by Robyn Hoeyde–Washington DC Coalition of Reason

As a Humanist and atheist, I believe that I am responsible for creating the vision of the world in which I wish to live. As a US Citizen based in the DC area, I will confess that these past few months have made me wonder how best to do that.

Frankly, there are lots to do. Civic engagement, protest, support of individuals and groups doing important things. One really easy thing I can do today: I can help create the vision of a more just, humane, sustainable world, in part, with what’s in my wallet.

One approach is by “not buying” stuff, such as the boycotts that made sales of Ivanka Trump branded product lines plummet, causing the likes of Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus to drop her lines. Let’s face it, though: many of us in the West particularly could do with the “more fun, less stuff” that the nonprofit Center for a New American Dream suggests (https://www.newdream.org/).

Another is by consuming mindfully. I drink coffee every day. If my spouse has anything to do with it, I eat a hearty, nutritional dinner every night. I might even have a glass of wine or beer. I then might watch TV. I might answer texts on my cell phone. I might listen to music or read a book – sometimes a “real” book, but often on my tablet.

In short, I consume stuff every day, which means that I make choices daily about what I consume. With those choices, I’m making decisions about the kinds of organizations with which I will “do commerce”. In making those decisions, whether I think about it or not, I am supporting other people and their decisions—and if not their vision of a better world, most assuredly their business models for how commerce should work.

But, what if you’re on a really limited budget? What if you’ve got kids needing your attention 24×7, in addition to a hectic work schedule and life?

To that I say, take some small steps at first. Here are just a few tips to get started (note, the entities and organizations are predominantly US-focused, but the ideas are applicable globally):

  1. Pick a product category focus and buy those that satisfy your non-financial values, too.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to think about all the issues I care about when I am out buying something, or in my living room purchasing something online. So, start with one or two product categories and then do some research.

    • Look for products that have secured third-party certification for social or environmental attributes that are meaningful to you. There are many of them, so choosing your product category to get started here can help you sort through the labels that make sense for you. For instance, is fair labor, good healthy food, and/or animal welfare among your priorities? Check out some of the leading food-related labels, which in the US include TransFair USA, USDA Organic, and Certified Humane Raised and Handled. Other consumables and household goods may carry any number of labels such as ENERGY STAR (more energy efficient), ECOLOGO and GreenSeal (multi-attribute for a range of product categories), GREENGUARD (low-Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) – the emissions that give us those newly installed carpeting smell, for instance), Green-e (renewable energy), and more. And these products are no longer always in the “more expensive” category – you can get deals!
    • Check out the various good product “lists”. For instance, the Environmental Working Group’s consumer guides to help you do some research into products you purchase: http://www.ewg.org/consumer-guides.
  1. Choose to do business with companies that share your vision of the world.
    • Support your local community. Choose your next purchase from a local business that is involved in “buy local” movements.
    • Support progressive businesses. Check out companies that are Benefit Corporations, or Certified B Corporations in your area. Both Benefit Corporations and certified B Corporations are for-profit companies that meet certain standards for social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. Find a company in your region—or a region you are traveling to–here: http://benefitcorp.net/businesses/find-a-benefit-corp
    • Support communities of color. The organization Support Black Owned Businesses lists businesses that are owned and by African Americans and Moorish people. https://www.supportblackowned.com/index.php  Note: there are religious-affiliated organizations in this mix.
    • Buy from companies that support LGBT workplace diversity. Check out the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index: http://www.hrc.org/resources/search-our-employer-database
  2. Keep your money in your pocket and choose to share or reuse.
    • There are lots of opportunities to extend the useful life of products past their utility to the original owner. Join an online Freecycle in your area https://www.freecycle.org/, where you might find anything from a gently used coffee maker to entire bedroom furniture set – all for the cost of picking it up from the “seller”.
    • Join your local community timebank exchange (or start one). Timebank exchanges are mechanisms through which people exchange their work or service for a time credit they can use to “buy” a service of the same time increment from another member of the exchange. http://timebanks.org/

In short, there are no shortages of opportunities to amplify the consumption choices you make. The first step is in realizing the power in your own pocket. The second step is doing something with that power.