You’re not powerless. And you can influence change! Here’s how.
Do you feel powerless as a consumer in the fight against climate change and pollution?
Do you look at the practices of some big businesses and think there’s no way to persuade them to change?
Do you get frustrated that the planet too often comes below profit in the priorities of big corporations?
We all know that climate change and pollution, particularly plastic pollution, is a global-scale issue and needs a global-scale response.
We also know that profits drive business and therefore changing products or practices to be less profitable, but more environmentally friendly, may be resisted.
However, if we all sit back and allow unethical, unsustainable, or earth-damaging behaviours to continue unchallenged, then we become part of the problem.
Because consumers can make a difference. We can have an influence, and we can and must drive change
It’s our responsibility to do this because the planet belongs to all of us.
Looking at it from another angle, encouraging our favourite brands and businesses to do better could actually help them in the long run. Because demand and pressure are only going to increase on environmental standards, and so environmentally and ethically reputable brands will stay competitive and ahead of the game.
So the question is, what can we do?
Vote with your wallet
The most powerful tool we as consumers have in our armoury is our money. After all, demand drives supply and unless there’s an essential product with a monopoly, generally we do have a choice.
But we need to exercise that choice.
And sometimes that choice may mean extra effort, spending a few more pennies, or approaching shopping with a different mindset.
The first stage of exercising choice and voting with our wallets is researching and educating ourselves. This may mean questioning and reviewing our tried and tested, trusted and best-loved brands through an eco-lens and deciding whether our purchases are sufficiently eco-friendly. It will mean reading labels, checking ingredients, reviewing online reputations and environmental policies. It may also involve learning what sustainability and other eco-terms really mean to make sure we are not being greenwashed.
If we are not happy with what’s on offer, the next step is to research the options. It may be that your existing fave brand has a greener product in its range. Or maybe when you delve into their eco-credentials you feel unable to support them at all, in which case you’ll be on the hunt for an alternative. Fortunately, there are many innovative and creative eco-challenger brands doing great work and vying for your attention and a slice of your budget. These smaller brands will often be the ones pushing up industry standards, offering a genuinely ethical and sustainable supply chain, and investing in R&D. They deserve your support and switching to them will send out a clear message to the big companies that they are not the only option in town.
Voting with our wallets may also mean exercising restraint. Whereas the powerful advertising put out by big brands is always telling us we need more of everything and the next sparkly new thing, it’s down to us to see through those messages and decide for ourselves. So first of all, do you really even need that thing? Can you repair or extend the life of the old one? Can you at least finish with the old product first? Fast fashion is a classic example here, the whole industry relies on us wanting the latest trends. But sometimes we can take a stand and opt for better long-term quality or even vintage over new.
And if we are going to continue buying, maybe it’s time to buy differently. For example, by seeing a purchase as an investment. This mindset leads us away from disposable towards refillable and reusable, which is far better for the environment, especially when you consider the landfill crisis caused by disposable plastics. Looking at our bathroom and kitchen habits alone, switching to sustainable, reusable razors, cleaning products, or even menstrual products can in itself bring down the amount of disposable plastic. And this sends out a clear message to big brands that disposable is no longer what we want.
Another way to signal support for brands doing the right thing is to buy from B Corp businesses, and those with recognised environmental accreditations. These prove a commitment to, and investment in, putting the planet before profit. Increased sales for these businesses should put pressure on the rest of the market to follow.
We may all be individuals, but individually we have a voice, and collectively it can be a big, loud one!
Of course, there’s still the good old-fashioned route of writing into a business to express a view, make a proactive suggestion about how they improve, or complain about a product or experience. And in an ideal world, any communication a customer makes would be taken seriously and acted upon. But too often customers experience tumbleweed or are palmed off with a standard corporate acknowledgement, with little or no action.
Whether you despair or delight in social media, one thing it has done is give everyone an opportunity to express their views publicly, and this action can have a big impact. Thanks to social media, calling out unethical behaviours, harmful products, poor environmental practices like excess unsustainable packaging, can be done far more effectively and powerfully than ever before.
But social media is also an opportunity for brands. It’s an easier and quicker way for them to engage with their customers, find out what they want, and then change or update their practices accordingly. It can only enhance a business’s image for them to build a reputation for listening and reacting.
With virtually every purchase we make or experience we buy there is now the option of reviewing or rating the product or business online or as a follow up. This is a great way to give a constructive but honest opinion in a way that will be seen by other potential customers – and hopefully, be considered by the brand’s own customer service and marketing teams.
If you feel particularly strongly about a specific issue, there’s also the option of a petition. A petition can highlight an important injustice or cause and get traction fast on social media, almost guaranteeing it’s brought to the attention of decision makers. But a word of wariness is to make sure your petition is well-researched and objective, not biased or inaccurate. Misunderstood subjects and misrepresented campaigns can lead to boycotts, which can be unfairly damaging to brands and communities. An example of this that we’re passionate about at Little Soap Company is palm oil and the repercussions of the boycott palm oil campaign. This showed how ‘on the bandwagon’, poorly researched campaigning can inadvertently hurt the environment and communities. It missed the important distinction that unsustainable palm oil should have been what we were rallying against, not the whole industry.
So, make your voice stand for positive change. It doesn’t have to be purely about individual companies or products. It can be about society and consumer trends. We speak out against Black Friday for example, because we believe it’s wasteful and encourages excess consumerism.
Celebrate the good stuff
There’s no point in any businesses adding eco-friendly alternatives to their product ranges and services if people aren’t buying them and taking them up!
So, make sure you take advantage of what’s on offer. For example, check the small print of your spray kitchen cleaner. Does it have the option to send off for an eco-refill instead of buying new? If so, then make sure you do it. Businesses will only offer the eco-alternative if they believe there’s a demand for it.
Have you discovered a new fabulous eco-friendly alternative to your tried and tested brand? Tell your friends, family, and social networks, and encourage them to buy it too.
Celebrate the good as well as calling out the bad. Use social media to encourage and champion good practice where you see it.
Our top 10 tips for influencing change as a consumer
- Educate yourself about what eco-friendly and sustainable really means
- Be wary of greenwashing but buy green where you can
- Take your business away from brands who are unethical or who are harming the earth
- Shop mindfully – do you really need it?
- Support brands with B Corp and other recognised accreditations
- Rate and review products and brands to help other customers make the right choice
- Complain and call out poor environmental practices where you see them
- Use petitions if a specific issue needs highlighting more powerfully, but use them with caution
- Use your voice to celebrate as well as criticize
- Make sure you’re taking the eco-alternative route when available
So, in summary, as a consumer, you are far from powerless. Your money and your voice are tools of influence if you make the effort and take the time to use them.