The gift of ethical consumerism

Be a mindful shopper this holiday season


Collegian File Photo

By Shona McMorrow, Collegian Columnist

The holiday season is upon us, and with it comes the season of shopping. Christmas itself has turned into a commercialized holiday, with the celebrations relying upon cheesy Netflix movies, extravagant gifts and Black Friday shopping that often commences mere hours after the Thanksgiving feasts. The holidays have become increasingly consumer driven, with the main thing on one’s mind being not reuniting and celebrating with loved ones, but rather, what present to buy for them. Granted, the spirit of this holiday has a lot to do with this act of giving, which I think is a very important tradition to have. There is something really special about giving someone a present that they love. But this should not be met with stress, nor should it mean months of shopping and advertisements thrown in your face. So, what can you do about it?

The obvious answer to some may be to boycott this consumer culture and to stop buying gifts all together. While this may seem noble, I think this is the easy way out. When you show up to a celebration empty handed, your valiant efforts will more likely will be met with an eyeroll than praise. If the spirit of the holiday season is giving, how can we give in a way that is responsible? The next contender may be a DIY present, something like a knitted scarf or a piece of art. I love homemade presents, and especially appreciate the time and genuine talent that goes into making them. On the other hand, I am not very creative, and the popsicle stick presents I made as a kid aren’t as cute coming from a 20-year-old. In a world where the expectations are high, and the options seem limited, what can we do? It is nearly impossible to stop being a consumer all together, but starting this holiday season, we can change that at least a little bit by committing to ethical consumerism.

Ethical consumerism means being conscious of what you choose to purchase and your role as a consumer in a world where that title is often unavoidable. Trying to make a sound decision may seem tedious, especially when it’s so easy to go on Amazon and complete all your holiday shopping in one go. Being an ethical consumer, however, does not mean researching every single product to find its exact origin, it just means being more aware of who you are giving your money to. Take of Amazon for example. Looking for a book for someone on your list? Instead of going to the retail giant, try stopping at your local independent bookstore. Looking for jewelry? Try 4Ocean, a company that uses recycled materials, and has made a commitment to sustainability and environmental change. Ethical consumerism can be as simple or as complex as your needs and choosing to simply be more aware of the decisions you make as a consumer is a great first step.

It is also important to recognize that the blame for unethical practices should not go to the consumer, but rather the companies and organizations that directly make these unethical decisions. That said, stepping away from these companies is a small but important move towards holding them accountable. When done in large enough groups, it may begin to have an impact, and if it doesn’t (and this may seem like trendy nonsense), at least you know that you made an effort to do better, even if those efforts went unnoticed. And why stop with yourself? Encouraging other to participate in ethical consumerism gives the consumer some power in a world that will probably never stop consuming. As you hand your gifts to each person on your list, you will know that you not only brought joy to one person this season, but made an effort to do better on a larger scale, and this knowledge is itself, a gift.

Shona McMorrow is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]