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Born Free USA Blog

Born Free USA Blog

Conscientious Consumerism is more than changing a light bulb

Published 06/09/08
By Monica Engebretson, Senior Program Associate

While some people feel that consumerism plays too large a role in American culture, the tradition of “shopping till you drop” isn’t likely to fade anytime soon. Perhaps the best response, then, is to consume conscientiously. After all, Webster’s Dictionary defines “consumerism” as “the promotion of the consumer’s interests.” Put a little differently, the way we spend our money communicates our beliefs, values, and interests.

Companies are clearly catching on. It seems everywhere you turn companies and products are advertising their “green” values and commitment to the environment, for example the natural product industry experiencing all-time sales highs, as well as products such as hybrid cars, fair-trade coffee, cruelty-free cosmetics and household products, and organic foods, all experiencing measurable success.

But as consumers are we really doing enough to evaluate our shopping habits or are we letting companies off the hook too easily because to do otherwise would require more personal effort and discretion?

In a recent article in Adweek Mike Lawrence, executive vp of corporate responsibility at Boston-based Cone, an Omnicom company whose specialties include cause-related branding, said, “People are more willing to change their light bulbs than their lifestyles.”

He added that most consumers are “open to practical environmental ideas they can implement, albeit with as little pain as possible.” But he also adds, “Behavior change is a journey. There's a lot more to come, to be driven by education, the changing cost of things and regulation.”

For those concerned about the well-being of animals as well as the environment it is even more important that we educate ourselves about the products we buy and the companies we support because a lot of companies are looking to cash in on shoppers’ good intentions.

Take Barney’s of New York for example, and its recent line of “green” products. In a recent collection of white papers on “Future Fashion,” Julie Gilhart, Senior Vice President and Fashion Director for Barney’s New York, wrote, “Taste used to mean good style. Now taste is increasingly about making good ethical choices. Luxury was about buying something extravagant. Now luxury is about making sure the extravagance is sustainable.” She also opined that “Socially conscience ethical consumerism is The New Cool.”

This all sounds well and good but, ironically, Barney’s is one of the major U.S. retailers that continue to sell garments made with real animal fur. In fact, Barney’s is one of a number of retailers recently found to be selling garments made from raccoon dog — a species from China that endures a particularly brutal killing process including being skinned alive.

We simply cannot let compassion for animals be left out of the social and environmental equation.

Read labels, ask questions, and hold companies accountable by writing directly to the companies you patronize and asking what their policies are on issues you care about.

I highly recommend that you buy a copy of Gorgeously Green, the new book by Sophie Uliano, longtime friend to Born Free to help get started (or fine tune) your conscientious consumer habits. There are also a lot of great tips on her website at www.gorgeouslygreen.com.

For a list of retailers who have taken a stand against fur fashion visit Born Free USA united with API’s Consumers for a Fur Free Society page.

Of course there are also a lot of great companies to support in Born Free USA united with API’s collection of corporate partners.

And here is another cool link to a collection of independent crafters who care about animals and make neat one-of-a-kind gifts, jewelry, and other items.

Blogging off,

Monica

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