Sunday, January 3, 2016

Shopping And Ethics

By David F. Garner

One great way to practice your values is to put your money where your mouth is. We often default to the idea that the best way to make a difference in the world is to donate money to someone else who is making a difference. While that is a great way, there is another. That is to use the money we spend every day to make purchases from companies that align with our values. Economists call this buying power. You and I have the power to support companies that are ethical and to avoid those that are not. I strive to whenever possible. The best part is I don’t have to be rich to spend thousands of dollars every year supporting great causes! Of course we all would love to donate thousands to this or that non-profit. And when we can spare to donate to those we should. But we can also support ethical businesses with the thousands we spend every year on necessities.

You are probably thinking I am going to suggest we all shop at Whole Foods. While that would be nice, I too would not have enough money left to put gas in the car if I did that. So I propose that we start by avoiding the worst businesses. Of course no business is perfect. You could probably find dirt on any business out there. So I have arrived at two conclusions. One is that if a business repeatedly shows up as one of the most unethical than I will do my best to avoid it. And two is that if a business takes a stand for something I can get behind then I will shop there over other businesses if I can afford it.

In the articles linked below you can see why I have decided to avoid Wal-Mart as much as possible. Article 1 is perhaps the most unbiased review of Wal-Mart I have come across. There are two presenters in the article. I think that the first presenter doesn't consider the whole picture and therefore agree with the second that shopping at Wal-Mart has many unethical practices. Of course similar arguments could be raised to show that shopping at most any chain store is unethical. So I think it is important to pick stores that are close to an ideal. Those ideals may turn out to be somewhat different for each person. At the very least it is important to support stores that have practices you agree with.

I try to shop Wal-Mart as little as possible. Sometimes it is unavoidable. But I try to support better businesses. Kroger is not perfect either. But I think it is a better alternative-- closer to my ideals. So that is where I shop for most of my food. Article 2 demonstrates Kroger’s very strong commitment to customer service. It is better than I have experienced at Wal-Mart. Kroger will take request from customers for products to stock. I have personal experience with this. They stopped carrying an item I really liked and could find nowhere else. I asked them to bring it back and within a month they restocked it.

Article 3 shows that Kroger is on track to be the biggest organic seller in the nation. It highlights this and other ways Kroger tries to put the customer first. Article 4 is a ranking by Green America of ethical grocery stores. Kroger is in the red but it is two slots above Wal-Mart, which is at the bottom. As I mentioned above the least one can do is go with the more ethical alternative.

As for price, Wal-Mart may always be king. But with Kroger’s rewards plan I have found that overall, Kroger is not much more expensive than Wal-Mart. Article 5 is not really a judge of ethics. It is a ranking based on customer satisfaction and likeliness to recommend the store. Kroger comes in at 7 out of 14 with 14 being, yep, Wal-Mart.

Buying organic non-GMO food is another way to buy ethically. Many organic food brands are also fair-trade certified. Of course this can get really expensive so check out the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen. This is a list by of 12 produce items you should buy organic and 15 items that are safest to buy non-organic based on levels of pesticides etc. Article 7 is another ethical list of which Wal-Mart is at the bottom. ASDA is the name for Wal-Mart as listed in this ranking. Article 8 is a report about seafood sales. Wal-Mart ranks a few spaces higher than Kroger. This was surprising to me. But no store is perfect. Kroger was one of the biggest sellers of non-sustainable seafood. However I don’t eat any seafood as a vegan so this was not a major issue for me.

There are of course plenty of other stores besides Kroger. I noticed that Aldi pops up in a few of these articles. I noticed it scoring high in my research. In fact in several price comparisons like this it ranked cheaper than Wal-Mart. They sell organic food too. Publix is another great option. And your local produce/farmer’s market is always a great option.

As for other areas, I like to shop at Goodwill a lot. Everything they sell is "recycled" and they provide jobs and training to the underprivileged. An option for pharmacy and such items is CVS. Their employee reviews are ranked similar to Walgreens. However they recently made a commitment to stop selling all tobacco products in their stores because they are unhealthy. They took a large profit loss but felt it was worth it. This is something my wife and I feel is important so we shop there for many items.

You can even be ethically conscious about where you keep your money! U.S. Bank has been repeatedly ranked among the most ethical businesses in the world. However, Bank of America is kind of like Wal-Mart, it should be avoided when possible. See this article but be warned it is somewhat explicit, or just do a Google search. Of course topping all the lists of ethics and sustainability is the clothing company Patagonia.

I encourage you to do your own research and come to your own conclusions. I have provided a good amount here to begin. You don't necessarily have to spend more money. For example, switching banks shouldn't cost. And who knows, you may even save money. Either way you can sleep better at night when you know you are contributing thousands of dollars every year toward good causes!