The idea of making “ethical” purchases is gaining traction, but how exactly should you go about committing to shopping ethically? Unfortunately, ethical shopping is a nuanced topic, and no single company exists that hasn’t ever done anything wrong. Starting from square one with ethical shopping seems overwhelming, which is why breaking down the process is key to having success in this shopping lifestyle change.

 

Choose Your Causes

Shopping ethically means something different to everyone. One person might be very opposed to animal testing, while another person might hate the thought of GMOs. Researching ethical products isn’t an easy task, so before you get started, think about what causes matter to you.

Are you worried about the environment? Perhaps you care about third-world country economies and sweatshop practices. Maybe ocean pollution is a huge deal for you. Focus your research on that cause to keep from being overwhelmed. As you get better at choosing ethical products, your knowledge base will expand to include other worthy causes, too. But you have to start somewhere, and you should care deeply about your starting point.

Understand Supply Chains

A common refrain in the beauty industry is the claim “we don’t test on animals!” That’s a wonderful step in producing ethical products, but just because Company X doesn’t test on animals doesn’t mean animal testing hasn’t happened somewhere in the supply chain.

Let’s say Company X sources its makeup fragrance from Company Y, and Company Y does test on animals. You buy something from Company X thinking it’s cruelty-free, when in fact the supply chain itself is flawed. Now, picking apart a company’s entire supply chain is well above and beyond what you have time to do. So choose companies that are transparent about where they get their ingredients. For example, Amway’s supply chain involves a lot of made-in-the-U.S.A. steps, like organic farms, to give the company greater control over its products.

 

Watch out for Greenwashing

Consumers want environmentally conscious products, and this has a lot of companies rushing to label their products as “green.” But a label claiming something is “green” doesn’t mean anything unless the company can back it up. A truly green company will have no problem giving you a long list of all the ways they conserve resources, probably right on the back of the package.

Look for seals like Fair Trade, Organic, and Rainforest Alliance. EcoProducts, for example, produces food service products that are more biodegradable than most of its competition. Ikea invests heavily in sustainability throughout its supply chain, which both helps the environment and helps keep costs down for customers.

Check out Overseas Behavior

A company that treats its U.S. employees well may turn around and mistreat or underpay overseas workers. It might pillage natural resources that local farmers and businesses need without a thought to the local consequences. Companies make a big deal out of the things they do right and are often quiet about the trouble they get into. Lots of U.S. companies have overseas labor divisions, including clothing and food companies.

Instead of checking a company’s website, research news articles and the Fair Labor Association to find information about the companies you purchase from. Have they caused upheaval in another country because of bad practices? Do they pay a living wage? Do they support local economies? While there’s no set list of companies that are or are not humanitarian, your gut will tell you when you read something you disagree with.

These steps are by no means the only measures you can take to shop ethically for your everyday items. The clothing industry, for example, is full of its own specific ethical concerns about producing more clothing (and more clothing waste) than people really need or can use. That’s why it’s so important to identify the causes that mean the most to you. If you realize you’ve been supporting a brand with practices you disagree with, you don’t need to internally beat yourself up. Inform yourself, and from this point forward commit to making better choices.