What are your "good," "ethical," or "moral" criteria for spending your money? Organic? Fair Trade? Made in America?
November 19, 2007 8:19 AM   Subscribe

What are your "good," "ethical," or "moral" criteria for spending your money? Organic? Fair Trade? Made in America? No Animals Harmed in the Making Of This ____? For the dollars you spend on goods and services, what values do you consider other than the value to yourself? Explain why.

There are so many considerations in this regard, and I'd like to have a firmer grounding in mine and perhaps debunk some common myths in this regard.

For example, I've heard that NO soaps undergo animal testing, as soap has been proven to work as a technology, so why would any corporation waste money putting ole shampoo on a terrier?
posted by k7lim to Society & Culture (27 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This seems kind of chatty, but what the hell.

I try not to buy anything.
If I do buy it, it's secondhand.
If it can't be secondhand, it is locally produced.
If it can't be locally produced, I get over myself.

If it's food, I buy it local and seasonal, and organic if practical.

If it's toiletries and household products, I support small companies with good social track records.

But I don't beat myself up to follow these rules, they're just what makes sense to me for normal consumption. I won't feel discredited if I eat a Big Mac or anything like that.
posted by padraigin at 8:27 AM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

My main ethical rule is that I try to buy from locally-owned companies as much as possible.

So, for example, with hardware I'll choose an Ace or True Value over a Home Depot (Ace and True Value are co-ops).

I do this partly because a local company tends to put more of its money back into the community and be more responsive to local needs. As someone who works for a local company, it's also to avoid being hypocritical when I urge others to do the same.
posted by drezdn at 8:30 AM on November 19, 2007

I also will avoid stores that treat their employees poorly or are run by someone who is vocal about politics that severely contrast with my own (Coors or Urban Outfitters would be examples of the later).
posted by drezdn at 8:32 AM on November 19, 2007

I buy from the company that provides the maximum quality/price ratio. Capitalism takes care of the rest.
posted by saeculorum at 8:33 AM on November 19, 2007 [3 favorites]

Shampoo != soap. Soap is a specific thing -- watch the video in this thread. Many lathery products that we use are not actually soap. And many of them do involve animal testing, or are made by companies that do animal testing on other products.

So that's one of my criteria. But I pretty much just use Dr. Bronner's anyway.

Other than that, for me, it's local if possible, and for food it's also seasonal + organic/sustainable/not-stupid.
posted by librarina at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2007

If an animal has anything to do with it, I don't. The goes for food, clothes, etc. /vegan

Also: this is chatfilter.
posted by dead_ at 8:44 AM on November 19, 2007

I tend to buy quality or from companies I have had good experiences with first.

I am leary of many of these 'ethical' criteria for shopping that I see. After reading The Omnivore's Dilemna, I decided that "organic" & "free range" had NOTHING to do with ethics and solely can be used as a list of ingredients for food, nothing more. IMHO, Whole Foods is a giant marketing scheme that preys on the ignorance of buyers that assume that it is morally better to buy free range chicken than what's available at the local supermarket.

I do try to buy local food, but in California, it's hard not to buy food that's grown nearby. Truly local meat is hard to find in Los Angeles.

As far as consumer & durable goods, my preference is on quality, regardless of location of origin.
posted by Argyle at 8:45 AM on November 19, 2007

If it can be bought like that (organic/local/etc.) then I'll try to. In terms of food, though, I usually buy store brands, which is kind of the exact opposite--but I'm a poor student, so you can't really blame me.

I guess my policy is, if I really can buy morally, then good for me; but if I can't, it doesn't discourage me from purchasing that product.
posted by rhoticity at 8:53 AM on November 19, 2007

We also try to buy local - in particular, we avoid chains when possible. Or try to stick with regional chains when necessary (i.e. grocery stores). This is especially true of eating out -- the more local the better.

We try to buy American made, but when that's impossible, we try to buy North American made, and then European made, then South American made, then Asian made. As I type that, I'm not exactly sure why we do it that way, except as recognition that its hard to buy certain things made in America, and that is the hierarchy we've set for ourselves. I think the most important issue is that we buy from China last whenever possible.

We also have a sort of random rule about not spending money in stores on Sunday, on the theory that "everyone deserves a day off". I realize this is an extremely flawed argument, but it works for us, and it has the added benefit of keeping us home most Sundays.

Exceptions are made to all these rules, of course.
posted by dpx.mfx at 8:53 AM on November 19, 2007

I try not to buy crap. I do not want to encourage the market to produce crap. Junk food, inexpensive anything. If you want one, save up and buy a good one.

I try to buy goods and services that echo my values... like I'm an early adapter because I want more technology in the world. Like I buy books rather than borrow because I want people to write more.

I'm not worried about animal testing because not eating meat is what really matters. If we don't eat them, then testing becomes a more significant problem.

I'm not worried about the size of the company. Big businesses are better for the market than little ones.

I am worried about buying local. I try to do this at the grocery store especially.
posted by ewkpates at 8:54 AM on November 19, 2007

My post would be word for word the same as drezdn's.

I have too many friends and family that own local businesses and live in my neighborhood. People I see daily.

Every time I go to Starbuck's instead of The Mudhouse (owned by my neighbor) or go to Barnes and Noble as opposed to my brother's bookstore I may as well just walk up to them in the street and punch them in the gut for all the respect I would be showing them.

Why would I send my money off to corporate headquarters somewhere to never see its benefits (others than some CEO's stipend) when I have people I love needing to pay their mortgages and raise their kids?
posted by sourwookie at 8:57 AM on November 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I'm no philanthropist, but all my donations go directly to the end user. No middle men. A fifty percent tip for that conscientious single-mom waitress. A twenty for the guy playing the guitar who looks like he'll spend it on food instead of drugs. And what padraigin said.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:04 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

"Durable" goods (down to about the level of an alarm clock) that can be fixed. If I don't want it badly enough to buy a proper item that can be kept and repaired, if needed, for the next ten years or so I don't buy it.

As little as possible from China; certainly nothing I stake my life on. I still remember the counterfeit SAE grade 8 bolts sold in the early 1980s.

Nothing from entertainment companies that do nasty things like lobby for copyright extensions or seek to pervert fair use.
posted by jet_silver at 9:10 AM on November 19, 2007

I try to support good labor practices. For me, that means shopping local (preferably direct-from-supplier, like farmers' markets) or at least not at stores that are known for exploiting workers at any level of the process, buying fair-trade, and buying organic or sustainable (since I figure they're the closest catch-all terms I can find for treating animals/plants/environments well). For the most part, I try to follow the philosophy of a friend who said, "I like giving my money to people I like."

I also try to support my own labor practices, in that I know I can never be perfect and sometimes I just need something cheap and quickly, so I try not to stress out about it to the point of dysfunction.
posted by occhiblu at 9:10 AM on November 19, 2007

I'm starting to be a little more environment and energy-conscious in my purchases of gadgets, and I generally shun anything that isn't power-efficient. I also try to choose RoHS-compliant products over non-compliant ones, unless it's out of stock and I can't wait. If possible I try to buy from Ebay; reusing is reducing ;-)
posted by kureshii at 9:17 AM on November 19, 2007

I don't exercise any moral or ethical choices about products at all. I only exercise pragmatic choices based on the value and quality of the item. Ethics and morals are something the free market can sort out. If a certain brand of milk, for example, was found to come from tortured cows and that news became public, the grocery stores would be reluctant to stock it given the bad PR.. so the decision making is taken out of my hands.

I'd guess many ethical and moral decisions made by people who aren't fully informed are bogus anyway (like people who bleat on about sweatshops, even though it's either that or starvation for the people who work in them).
posted by wackybrit at 9:43 AM on November 19, 2007

Most people don't research every company they buy from, but just gravitate towards certain brands or labels, like "locally grown", or "cage-free". And then they just become sheep again, only with less money.

Making ethically guided purchases is an empty gesture, and a rather showy one at that. Habitually giving time and money to charity is a much more effective way to spend in the cause of the good.
posted by Laugh_track at 9:54 AM on November 19, 2007

Like most of the folks above, I aim to buy products that are well-made and durable, with a minimum of plastic—locally produced if possible, to reduce the energy needed to get it to my doorstep. I also aim to buy things (locally produced or not) from locally owned businesses, and I go to locally owned cafes and restaurants. Not that all chains are bad; I just like keeping my money in my community.

For fresh produce, we have a rule that it has to either be local or organic. I live in Portland, where citrus trees don't do so well, so if I get grapefruit from Texas I at least want to ensure it isn't sprayed with chemicals. But there are also a lot of local farmers around here with good practices who aren't yet certified organic, and I'll support them by getting local pears and apples.

I avoid getting plastic bags as much as possible, but the ones that make it into our house are reused in relation to the cat's litterbox.

I know I'm not perfect, and as a middle-class American I know I've contributed more than my fair share to landfills in my life. But I'm working on it; every bit helps.
posted by Sterling Hoyt at 10:02 AM on November 19, 2007

My main consumer choice of the moment (besides a long standing refusal to shop at Walmart) is not to buy anything wrapped in fucking clamshell plastic that I can't get open without cutting myself on the knife required in the process. I'm not sure that's quite what you had in mind in terms of 'ethics'--but that's the little corner of the market I'm trying to influence.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:18 AM on November 19, 2007

With regards to food: I try to buy organic/etc. for any food involving animals. And yes, I try to do some research on a given company, and try to read between the lines and see what they're omitting in their ad copy. I find that there tends to be a difference in taste, and yeah, though I'm no vegetarian, I find factory farming totally unethical. I try to stay away from Big Organic brands (like Horizon's milk), since they're often barely different from factory farming. I worry a little less about vegetables - though today's agricultural system seems only dubiously sustainable - since I worry less about the suffering of a potato than I do the suffering of a cow. Partly it's personal taste, partly a moral judgement on our current agricultural system.

For clothes: I try to patch old clothes until they're no longer wearable. I buy secondhand a lot. I repair my boots when the soles get worn instead of getting new ones (I would repair my sneakers, but there seem to be fewer generic soles that fit specific sneakers, and the rest of the shoe gets ratty as well). In general, I try to go for relatively sturdy stuff that I'm pretty sure I'll wear a lot.

Otherwise: I try to buy local, even it if is more expensive. It's a matter of supporting businesses I like (an all sci-fi bookstore like Pandemonium in Cambridge, for example, instead of Borders, or Twisted Village instead of... well, I guess there is no Tower Records anymore, but...) I don't beat myself up if a Starbucks happens to be in the right place when I need a cup of coffee, but in general, I try to support places that are unique, high quality, local, etc. Beyond that, I'll try to buy used things - furniture, monitors, whatever - if there isn't a small local business that I want to support. I try to use my bookbag (and other random bags) instead of plastic bags, whenever possible.

None of these are hard-and-fast rules: It is partly symbolic, sure, and no, it won't make that much of a difference if I have disgusting (disgustingly delicious) McDonald's fries once or twice a year. But it makes a bit of difference, and it's in accordance with my morals, so hey.
posted by ubersturm at 10:23 AM on November 19, 2007

The only "values"-based consumer choice I've made is to avoid Wal-Mart as much as possible. If I were consistent or particularly rabid about the issues behind this choice, I'd probably expand my self-prohibition to other big box stores, but I don't. I'd like to say that I make similar value-based choices regarding diamonds and SUVs, but I'm not really in the market for those (though I am happy to condemn those who do buy those things--well, in my head or on the Internet).

Other than that, I buy whatever is the most convenient or highest quality for my money. I'll shop at Whole Foods, not because I have a strong desire for organic, but because I like their hummus more than Trader Joe's and it's more convenient to shop at Whole Foods than some small Middle Eastern grocery store. I shop at Amazon for books whenever possible because it is one less trip to make. I buy almost all my music online (iTunes, eMusic and now Amazon) because it's convenient. I'll buy pizza from Pizza Hut or Papa John's because they'll deliver and I can order from the website and the local guy doesn't offer either (note: this did not apply when I lived in NYC because the corner pizzeria won out in the quality vs convenience battle). Almost any store or restaurant that closes before 8pm won't get my business (unless it's right next to my office).

I avoid Blockbuster out of spite.

wackybrit said: I don't exercise any moral or ethical choices about products at all. I only exercise pragmatic choices based on the value and quality of the item. Ethics and morals are something the free market can sort out.

Um...aren't you part of the free market? I end up with mostly the same result as wackybrit, but I'm not going to pretend like it's up to someone else to make informed choices.
posted by mullacc at 11:02 AM on November 19, 2007

It's not a hard & fast rule, but I like to buy things directly from artisans, whether it's jewelry or pottery or whatever. I'd rather spend money on buying something beautiful and unique and have it directly go to the person who created it than getting something mass produced by people who probably aren't getting compensated for it.

I also just like to support people who make things I like. I figure it's very daring and risky to work for yourself, so if I think they've got a good product, I'm all too glad to support that.
posted by tastybrains at 11:54 AM on November 19, 2007

Um...aren't you part of the free market? I end up with mostly the same result as wackybrit, but I'm not going to pretend like it's up to someone else to make informed choices.

Sure I am, but I'm a single, inconsequential part of the free market, much as I'm a single, inconsequential member of the electorate. I've experienced enough inability of the common man to have a sizable effect in these two realm, so I leave it up to everyone else to balance out the system.
posted by wackybrit at 12:32 PM on November 19, 2007

I try not to buy loss leaders (like cheap DVDs at big box stores and the like). For one, they cost the jobs and businesses of people from specialized stores selling X (DVDs, or what have you). Also, when I need something that isn't generic, that only a store actually specializing in what I'm looking for would have, then I'm screwing myself over when I buy a similar product sold at below cost at some big box.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 12:46 PM on November 19, 2007

My personal taboo is crappy American style fast food. Not that I think it makes a difference to anything in the long run. I've bought McDonald's food once in the last 17 years, and I was rather drunk on that occasion. I thought it was a kebab shop.
posted by Tixylix at 2:26 PM on November 19, 2007

I buy fair trade whenever I can; I don't want to get my products cheaply at the expense of the people who produce them if I can help it.

I observe any boycott that I'm aware of that is promoted and supported by the actual people (workers, community members, etc) who are negatively affected by the company.

I buy certified humane eggs and dairy products when I can get them (eggs are way easier than dairy), because the label is supported by the Humane Society and ASPCA so I figure it actually means something (unlike cage-free, etc.) I'm also a vegetarian.

I try to buy local and non-corporate.

I'm starting to get better at buying more environmentally-friendly products.

And I try to buy less new stuff, and less stuff in general!
posted by EmilyClimbs at 6:03 PM on November 19, 2007

I don't know if I want to go into great detail on this, but.. Humbly, and without any joke intended, I make this suggestion: earn less.
posted by Chuckles at 9:28 PM on November 19, 2007

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