From Cart to Conscience: Flexing the power of your purchase decisions for good

If every dollar spent is a vote for the kind of world you want to live in, then how are you spending yours? This is the choice that faces each of us every day — whether it’s at the virtual or the *actual* checkout.

We know that how we spend our money, where we spend it, and what we spend it on, matters. And of course, not to ignore what Simon says, why we are spending it matters too. 

More and more, as citizens, we are coming to understand the impact and power of the consumer dollar. In our current capitalist system, it is how we ‘speak the language’ of power, of action. It is one of the ways we show what we care about, and what we need. And by redirecting its flow, we hope to change the course of the river.

That river is, of course — the global economy as we know it, and conscious consumers around the world are already working hard to reorient and transform it to be more equitable, kind and regenerative for all.

Aerial shot of a river flowing

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As a movement predicated on the desire to go beyond business as usual, B Corps are proactively meeting high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. 

They are leading a new economy where people, profit, planet, and purpose can co-exist and everybody benefits. We know it’s possible, but it requires each of us to play our part with the resources we have.

And yet, particularly during the festive season — whether it’s ‘Black Friday’, Christmas, or other culturally significant gifting seasons — a dissonance emerges. We begin to feel the tension between doing good, voting for a better world by spending money, and being conscious about over-consumption. It’s palpable and it’s also pressing. 

💡 So, how can we — as individuals — support the businesses we love while not feeding into over-consumerism? 

💡 How can we — as communities — be more conscious about our purchasing decisions and use the power of our dollars for good, while taking care of those feeling the cost of living crises most acutely? 

💡 And how can we — as businesses — educate people on the costs of over-consumption while still making the very sales that keep the (LED) lights on?

It’s a big one. Better strap yourselves in.

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Can we be generous, do good and not over-consume at the same time?

We live in a society where gifting is a key way to show people we care about them. Research suggests that giving gifts is a form of social exchange that helps strengthen relationships, and in a time where social cohesion is at its lowest on record, we might be feeling more compelled to buy gifts than ever before. 

The desire to ‘give’ is coinciding with a cost of living crisis being felt around the world, with inflation in most OECD countries reaching levels not seen in the last four decades. And at the same time, we are being bombarded by hundreds of marketing messages every day and headlines encouraging us to ‘spend for the economy’ or ‘support small business’, with our inboxes filled to the brim with deals that look oh-so-tempting while our fiscal belts are a little tighter.

It’s no secret that we have grown up in a system that fuels the constant desire for the fastest, newest, shiniest products. And this desire for more has us drowning in stuff and marine life in microplastics.

We know, as a result of fast fashion alone, the equivalent of a garbage truck load of clothes is burnt or buried in landfill every second. According to a recent report, Australia is second only to the United States for its consumption of textiles, with 27 kilograms of new clothing and footwear created per person each year and one third of new clothing going directly from factory to landfill. And in Australia alone, ABC News estimates that we generate up to 50 per cent more waste during the silly season — from excess food to gift wrapping — much of which goes straight to landfill. 

The negative impacts of our consumerist society on the planet and its people weighs heavily on many of our shoulders. And we wonder why it can feel like we have been gifted eco-guilt with a side of novelty socks for the holidays. It’s a lot. And many of us are grappling with what it means to be a conscious consumer, and a generous person who supports a thriving economy. Thankfully, we are not without hope

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When taking imperfect action is better than no action at all

The very desire to do something about climate change, exploitative supply chains, and unsustainable business practices — while also running a profitable enterprise — is what leads many businesses to pursue B Corp Certification in the first place.

There are now almost 8,000 Certified B Corporations globally, representing more than 700,000 workers across 92 countries and 160+ industries, all with one unifying goal: to make business a force for good.

Driven by the desire to create an inclusive, equitable, and regenerative economy that benefits all, a B Corp’s purpose is enshrined in its company constitution, and informs every aspect of their business, from operations to governance.

In their own way, B Corps are each using the mechanisms of the market to address systemic issues and redefine business as usual. From fashion to finance, and everything in between, they are also looking for more ethical and conscious ways to sell and share their world-changing goods or services with the world — at the same time as not feeding into the narrative that what is ‘bigger, newer, shinier’ equals better. So, how are they doing that, and how can we as conscious citizens support them?

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Introducing: Return on Spending

Just like making a profit, spending money is not inherently bad – it’s just we need a group rethink on the way we spend and how we gift. Enter: ‘Return on Spending’. 

Similar to return on investment, ‘Return on Spending’ moves beyond conventional metrics of cost and quality to blend impact and mindfulness into our purchasing decisions; finding ways to redefine and measure the ‘costs’ in terms of where our money goes, what it supports, and what we ‘get’ for it, as well as the hidden ‘savings’ to people and the planet of buying with a better business.

As founder of financial education platform, SkilledSmart, Paridhi Jain shared recently

“When you want a good return on investment, what you’re really saying is: ‘I want to put my money in something today that will give me a bigger pay off later’.”

Redefining what it means to spend well and to spend in line with our values, we can transcend the traditional confines of consumerism. Instead, we can look at our purchases not just in terms of immediate gratification or utility, but through a lens of its long-term impacts — from environmental sustainability to social responsibility, and longevity. This is exactly what the ‘B’ in B Corp represents.

Buying better, buying B Corp

Whether you see it on the supermarket shelves, on the website of your favourite brand, or as you’re walking down the street — the ‘B’ is far more than a letter. It is a mark imbued with meaning and purpose; one that gets earned through countless hours of deliberate, concerted action for a better world. 

B Corp Certification is an independent and globally standardised way of trying to certify and quantify that a company puts people, planet and communities on an equal footing with profit. And it is about shifting the behaviour, culture, and structural underpinnings of a ‘grow at all costs’ economy that has got us here.

“As you start to align your spending to your core values and start increasing your return on spending, you’ll start to notice a shift in how you feel about spending money. The post-spending guilt, anxiety, regret and self-criticism will start to reduce.”

— Paridhi Jain

Thinking about what it means to spend well, to spend in line with your values, and how you can align your purchasing decisions with your ethics has always been important. It’s just that it hasn’t always been possible to tell what your return on spending is. With B Corps, it’s more accessible and more visible than ever before, which is transforming the traditional gifting and retail landscape. 

The business balancing act 

While it’s important that we have conversations about over-consumption and ‘spending well’, they are often targeted at those of us doing the ‘buying’. So, what about the businesses on the other side of the cash register? Those who depend on sales for revenue, and who are ‘competing’ in an increasingly saturated market to keep the LED lights on, staff employed and paid fairly, and the planet cared for?

Purpose-driven businesses — be they service, experience or product-based — are seeking and designing all sorts of creative and innovative ways to meet the needs of citizens, and supporting a thriving economy, without playing into unbridled consumerism

We know that, more than ever, credibility and authenticity are essential to business success  and that shaping a more conscientious market starts with everyday choices, radical transparency, compliance and accountability. So, what does this mean for businesses, especially during holiday or peak gifting seasons?

For Jeremy Meltzer, Founder and CEO of B Corp i=Change, what we are seeing is a growing pressure on businesses to not just feature their promotions, but to centre their purpose, and bring citizens along for the ride. 

“It is estimated that $480 per person and up to $10B in total will be spent during ‘Black Friday’ in 2023, with 90 per cent of consumers expecting to shop from businesses that are building a better world. 

“For businesses that give back transparently, it can drive significant engagement, sales and loyalty. We are witnessing a profound inflection point in history. We are aware our choices are consequential. So, the question becomes how quickly businesses can innovate and harness this opportunity, and can we do so in time?”

— Jeremy Meltzer, Founder & CEO of i=Change

B Corps are all too aware that every decision a business makes has a vast ripple effect that impacts people, communities and the environment far beyond its immediate stakeholders. And while businesses have immense power to address the world’s most critical challenges, this power comes with great responsibility and an unparalleled opportunity to wield the mechanisms of the market as a force for good.

Not feeding the frenzy

B Corps are committed to, and bound by, the need to consider all stakeholders in decision-making. Therefore, when it comes to ‘Black Friday’ or holiday sales, every campaign or marketing message needs to align with a broader environmental and social purpose and be in service of the kind of world we want to live in. 

Instead of employing traditional, and at times unethical, sales tactics that encourage impulsive buying and ‘more, more, more’, purpose-driven businesses have an opportunity to focus on marketing and sales strategies that highlight the brand’s commitment to sustainability. We have the opportunity to tell a different kind of story — one that educates and empowers citizens to make informed decisions that align with their values.

As Emma Wallace, Operations and Production Manager at B Corp Kowtow, shared at a recent industry event on transparency in the fashion industry:

“We agonise on decisions, we debate decisions, and I think that’s what a responsible business needs to do now, and customers need to hold us accountable for that. 

“And I think the sales look after themselves. I mean, that sounds really simplistic but if you’re doing the right thing, saying the right thing, not trying to brainwash, if you’re sticking to the facts, people will come to you. I think customers enjoy that sort of honesty.” 

With more and more businesses rejecting the ‘single-use status quo’ and using retail holidays to advocate against over-consumption, and instead promote a culture of responsible spending and sustainability, the economic tides are slowly shifting.

Putting the ‘B’ in Black Friday

Over the past few years, many B Corps and other purpose-driven businesses have found ways to participate in Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the myriad of other holiday festive giving seasons from Christmas to Valentine’s Day — but with a twist symbolic of businesses doing things differently. 

There’s Green Friday — a startup designed to flip the narrative on the mass overconsumption that occurs during sales periods. Giving citizens the opportunity to make more informed decisions about their purchases and to support brands that align with their morals and values, they feature offers from retailers and brands within the sustainability, re-commerce and circular economy space. 

Since 2015, US-based outdoor co-op REI has closed their doors on Black Friday, choosing to #OptOutside over participating in the busiest in-store shopping day of the year and paying their staff to spend time in nature.

B Corps like Citizen Wolf are doing ‘Black Fri-dye‘ and “hijacking Black Friday to end disposable fashion for good by making it stupidly simple to love your clothes longer”. 

Leading global second-hand luxury fashion platform Vestiaire Collective has mounted an advocacy campaign for ‘Better Friday’, banning fast fashion items from their platform and beginning to lobby for legislation around Extended Producer Responsibility. At the same time, they have announced a multi-year strategy designed to find practical solutions for recycling, upcycling, and constructively donating former fast fashion. 

Of course, there’s the iconic ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ campaign from Patagonia over a decade ago, as well as B Corps like Clothing The Gaps who have run ‘Blakout Friday’ to support First Nations artists and activists with events. 

Image by Citizen Wolf

The perfect time for a ‘buy-cott’, not a boycott

This movement is predicated on business as a force for good. It’s not about making spending ‘bad’, nor judging the businesses who do partake in sales or discount strategies around popular retail-holidays like Black Friday as a means of creating sales and impact.

Instead, what we need right now is to promote greater consciousness and mindfulness when it comes to where and what we spend our money on, and who we spend it with. Rather than not buying in at all, perhaps what we need is what author Kerry Hannon calls a ‘buy-cott’, not a boycott:

“One of the rewards of spending better is knowing that you are a part of a bigger movement, and that bigger movement is harnessing the market to have an impact on the lives of others.

“Boycott, of course, is the traditional ‘I won’t spend money with you because of the way you are operating’. With a buy-cott, you are choosing to spend money with a company because of the way they are operating.”

We all have different budgets, values and ideas of what constitutes ‘spending well’. We also all have wants and needs, be they products, services or experiences, that add up to a life well-lived. While it’s up to all of us to tread lighter on the planet and make small choices every day that add up to systems change over time, perhaps now is the perfect time to support some of the B Corps on your wishlist. It’s about acknowledging that — if money makes the world go round — we need to make it better.

As we redefine what spending means to us, we must find ways to be more conscious about our purchasing decisions (or marketing messaging). Because the work of creating a more equitable, inclusive and fair economic system is not just about buying more, it’s about buying better, and championing businesses that are proactively benefitting people, planet and communities in the process.

Thank you to i=Change, Kowtow and other B Corps who have shared their unique perspectives on Black Friday and ethical consumption. Want to continue the conversation? Let us know how your business approaches these key ‘retail’ holidays and search the B Corp Directory to find businesses worth spending on ↗