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April 18, 2019

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Want to be a more ethical consumer? Consider these things

labels

Ethical consumerism is rooted in the premise that consumers not only buy the products, but also the process used to produce it. It’s also called dollar voting—every dollar spent casts a vote affecting local and global issues. Consider this: Spending $10 on a fast-fashion brand whose garments are made in exploitative factories fiscally costs the same as $10 spent at a local thrift store, but the social, environmental and human costs of that purchase are worlds apart. Through ethical consumerism, dollar votes can add up to enormous change for the better.

Read the labels

Strolling through the grocery store, you’re bound to see symbols on everything from canned beans to shampoos. Below is a guide to the more popular labeling systems related to ethical consumerism and what they mean.

• Fair Trade USA Certified: This label indicates the product meets Fair Trade USA’s standards for transparency, environmental and employer practices, which “[include] safe conditions, protect the environment, build sustainable livelihoods and earn additional money to empower and uplift their communities,” according to the organization.

• USDA Organic: The United States Department of Agriculture certifies that produce and agricultural food are free of synthetic substances for crops and livestock production. usda.gov/topics/organic

• Leaping Bunny: Products with this label do not use animal testing in any stage of production. This symbol is often found on cosmetic, personal care and household items. leapingbunny.org

• Non-GMO: Meets standards set by the Non-GMO Project, which ensures the product does not include genetically modified organisms with genetic makeups altered in the laboratory via genetic engineering or transgenic technology. nongmoproject.org

• Certified B: Businesses that meet social and environmental standards set by the nonprofit B Lab commit to make a positive change in the world through their treatment of workers and environmental practices that balance profit and purpose. bcorporation.net

• Certified Vegan: Goods certified through the Vegan Awareness Foundation do not contain animal products or byproducts and have not been tested on animals. vegan.org

• Rainforest Alliance Certified/Verified: Products with this label use ingredients sourced from farms that meet the organization’s standards for social, economic and environmental sustainability. Standards include biodiversity conservation, improving the livelihoods of people, natural resource conservation and effective farm management systems.

Getting started

Ethical consumerism requires shoppers to shift their mindset in two fundamental ways. First, a consumer must view goods as objects with a history, part of a series of ethical and unethical production processes. Second, a consumer must believe that consumption is a political choice that can have larger societal effects. Next, consider the following:

Identify your values and buy from companies that align with them.

• Are you all about recycling?

• Against animal testing?

• For small businesses?

• For women-led businesses?

• For fair wages?

List your values. There’s no limit to how many different causes you can support with your dollar votes.

Research how a business operates and consider these things

Small business or large? Large businesses may have a big footprint, but many still make an effort to operate consciously. For example, Lush, a cosmetic store, offers thousands of beauty products not tested on animals, and it practices fair labor laws. Additionally, it works to source rare ingredients in an environmentally beneficial way. lushusa.com.

Small or local businesses benefit the community in multiple ways, such as keeping money in the local economy, uplifting struggling communities and fostering innovation in marketplaces. Garden Infusions is a small Las Vegas business that focuses on organic, natural cosmetic products often infused with CBD oil. It offers handcrafted herbal remedies and bases its business on “caring and treating people with love and respect,” according to its website.

How does the business handle packaging and waste? Consumerism can be detrimental to the environment, contributing to global warming, plastic in the oceans and overflowing landfills.

Some businesses try to limit their footprint by using recyclable or biodegradable packaging or by outsourcing the packaging of products to a co-packers warehouse, which cuts down on waste, streamlines productions and ensures quality control.

Las Vegas is home to several co-packers, including Co-Packing.org, which packages anything from health snacks to household items. This company also supports other small, local businesses and startups.

Does the business have a transparent supply chain? Look for companies that can trace every step of the supply chain used to make a product, whether that’s a body lotion, tea or clothing.

Everlane, an online retail store, based its success on radical transparency, showing consumers each step a garment takes—from the fabric it uses to the factory that produced it.

Tealet, a local business-to-business tea supplier, sources leaves from around the world, working with small farmers and co-ops to ensure transparency from field to cup.

How does the business treat its employees?

Fair labor practices and laws vary widely depending on where the company is located. Many have supply chains that cross international borders. Does the business pay staff a living wage and provide adequate time off? Are working conditions safe? Does the business employ child labor? How about job development and growth opportunities for staff? It’s best to look for fair-trade companies that are open about labor practices, many of which may be posted on an ethical organization’s website.

The Las Vegas nonprofit Lighthouse Charities offers job development and training to more than 2,000 refugees placed in Southern Nevada. Lighthouse Charities runs Nafasi Designs, a crafts program for female refugees who earn income while they’re learning English and job skills. Crafts include jewelry, clothing, candles, holiday decor and more.

Nisolo, an e-commerce shoe company, pays fair wages in its factories and partners. It partners with local artisans in Peru, where the majority of income is unreliable and comes from marketplaces. All of Nisolo’s artisans are given a contract that guarantees stable salary with benefits. It also partners with Tennessee Language Center, which provides help and English skills. Each shoe purchase is accompanied by a handwritten note thanking the shopper for his or her purchase.

Consider upcycling

Some companies use old, discarded items to create something new or new to the buyer.

Las Vegas is home to many thrift shops, consignment shops and second-hand stores, where you can find anything from vintage hotel furniture to Hermes bags. Downtown's Main Street is lined with thrift and vintage shops.

Reformation, an LA-based retail store, uses deadstock fabrics to create new dresses, jeans and more. The company also uses RefScale, a method that tracks its environmental footprint through a formula that adds up the pounds of carbon dioxide emitted, gallons of water used and pounds of waste generated.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly.