Voting With Your Dollar:

What Does It Mean & What’s Its Role in Impacting Change?

by | Aug 7, 2020

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So what does it mean to vote with your dollar?

One of the biggest impediments to effecting change through daily action is that we often view real change as requiring either:

1) introducing new conduct into your routine, or 

2) completely eliminating something well-entrenched in your life. 

It’s completely reasonable that we aren’t always in a place to accept that challenge and commit to a complete change in lifestyle. 

That reality shapes a critical part of our mission at Grow Ensemble:

Sometimes change doesn’t require you to completely change what you’re doing. Sometimes it only requires you to change how you’re doing it.

A huge example of this philosophy: voting with your dollar

What does that even mean? It’s exactly what you think. Each dollar you spend (or don’t) is a vote you are casting and the marketplace is the ballot box.

This doesn’t mean you’re looking for additional expenditures to support causes you believe in (although financial contributions and donations are always a good way to help out a movement you care about—like our contributions to environmental nonprofits through our 1% for the Planet membership).

It also doesn’t mean you’re reducing your expenditures or your consumption (although also this often is not a bad idea).

Instead, you’re taking the same actions, but you’re doing it differently.

“Replacements” can be an extremely effective way to break or curtail a habit you’d like to change. 

For example, if you wanted to kick your morning caffeine habit (who knows why you’d do that…), it would be much easier to replace that coffee with another tasty, warm drink in the morning. 

Find an herbal tea you like, or, take a baby step by switching to decaf (boo!). 

You’d find taking this approach would make cutting your caffeine consumption much easier than quitting cold turkey (despite ridding your life of some serious morning java joy).  

In the context of this conversation, consider what “votes” you are already making with your dollars every day. 

Did you fill up on gas recently? Who (or what) does that $20 – $30 support? Have you purchased any new clothing? From what company, and do you know if they stand by fair labor practices? 

When you were at the grocery store, which products were you grabbing off the shelves? Did you consider if the foods were produced sustainably and ethically? 

This isn’t meant to intimidate or overwhelm!

Rather, this is about showing you the opportunity (and power) you already do have. 

When you are staring down which glass cleaner to pick up, or whether to pick organic foods over conventionally produced, whatever choice you make, you’ve casted a vote. 

So why not put those votes toward products, businesses (business people), and movements that align with your values?

Why Should You Care Where Your Dollars Go?

“Voting with your dollars” won’t be our silver bullet to creating a more just, equitable, and hospitable world for all (more on that later). 

Even though, it’s important we as consumers still get this right

Why? Well, three reasons in particular: 

  1. While this type of “support” may feel microscopic, voting responsibly with your dollars is something that can be done every day. How often are our elections? Even on a local level?
  2. Speaking of voting…while on the individual level you may be thinking where you spend dollars has little to no impact, this practice really ends up meaning something on the collective level. Like in an election, your individual vote may not sway the result, however, voting is a collective activity. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water.
  3. Lastly, whether you buy this “practice” or not, you are still participating. You are still making purchases aren’t you? Whether you choose to participate in more considerately discerning who you are spending your dollars with, those spent dollars are still supporting someone (and their values)!

If you think large corporations aren’t affected by or paying attention to consumer trends and the calls for environmental and social sustainability, think again.

How to Vote with Your Dollars Sustainably

And so, how do you responsibly vote with your dollars?

Well, awareness is always a huge component to change, but…and this is almost too easy…put your money where your mouth is!

Whether buying food, clothes, daily necessities, or last-minute errands, “dollar voting” applies across the board. 

If you’re going to spend $20 on a shirt, is there a way to direct those dollars to a company fighting climate change? 

If you’re going to spend $8 on a coffee, is there a cafe that ensures their coffee beans are fair trade certified? 

If you’re going to buy household goods, is there a business that sells sustainable products for your family and the environment?

Here are some of our favorite ways at Grow Ensemble to make more considerate decisions with where our dollars go: 

1) Look for certifications and associations you trust when purchasing

For us at Grow Ensemble, we are greatly appreciative of the work that is being done by various third parties to certify businesses for the quality and sustainability with which they do business.

Businesses that are getting “certified” by associations for their environmental and social commitments are becoming much easier to spot out in the world. 

Here are a few to look out for:

Certified B Corporations — Take a look at the and you’ll read, 

“Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.” 

Certifying (and re-certifying) as a B Corporation is no easy task! If you encounter the “B” out in the world as you are shopping, feel at ease you are making a better buying decision.

We are always on the hunt for the “B” out in the wild

1% for the Planet — 1% for the Planet is a community of businesses (like Grow Ensemble!) that have committed to donating 1% of their revenues to environmental nonprofits and activism. 

While no additional certification process is done (to measure their environmental impact) you can feel better a portion of sales is going to those fighting to protect our planet.

Certified Climate NeutralA relatively new certification, all brands listed here have committed to measuring their carbon footprint, reduce everything they can, and offset the rest.

Of course, others to look out for; Fair Trade Certification, Made Safe, or Cruelty Free.


2) Consider your substitutes or reasonable alternatives

With the desire to not flip our lifestyles on their heads, consider what reasonable alternatives or substitutes might exist for some of your current habits or consistent expenditures.

 For example, in how you eat: 

Consider supporting sustainable and locally produced food by getting some of your grocery shopping done at a local farmers’ market. 

Not only are the fruits, vegetables, and meat products that you can get at a local market fresher, they also impact the environment less as they had to travel less distance (often with little to no packaging) to get to you! 

Still need to hit the grocery store? Choose to opt for organic foods versus conventional to support low toxin/non toxic farming.  

In shopping online: 

Although insanely convenient, it turns out Amazon’s option for “next-day delivery” is terrible for the environment. Can you opt for no-rush delivery, or the standard 3-5? 

We survived before single day delivery, right?

And if you are okay with waiting, maybe you can purchase your products directly from the websites or from the Certified B Corporation companies we told you to look out for! 

That will ensure those certified “better businesses” are getting all the support from the products you are purchasing, versus a percentage of sales going to the marketplace (Amazon). 

Better yet, take a look at if there are any local businesses within biking or walking distance that sell what you need. Save the environment the trouble and stimulate your local economy by shopping “offline.” 

3) Consider what you aren’t buying

Voting with your dollar doesn’t just mean what you do buy or purchase, it’s also what you don’t

For example, every year on Black Friday, REI shuts its doors (online and offline) to encourage people to #optoutside.  

You too can do the same by not engaging in the commerce of the day. Don’t believe in the mindless consumption that Black Friday and Cyber Monday might perpetuate? 

Choose to not make purchases on those days. 

Likewise, by opting to bike or walk to school, work, the store, you’ll be purchasing less gasoline. 

In spending less at the pump, you are diverting resources away from the fossil fuel industry.  

Just make sure to wear a helmet!

What Role does “Voting With Your Dollar” Play in the Greater Scope of Impacting Whole-Scale Change?

Inherently there are limitations to the “impact” that voting with your dollars can make. 

The reality? More dollars means you have more votes. Those with fewer dollars have less of a voice. 

In that case, this practice of “voting with your dollar” while affecting positive changes nonetheless, may never touch the lives of the most marginalized, as their voices are left unheard in this system of things. 

But, there are a couple of components to this practice that may keep your spirits high. 

First, you are completely in control of where your dollars go. And, no matter how small a purchase, you are still making a statement. 

Whether it’s that you do not accept child labor in clothing manufacturing, you demand human rights be respected by the factories that produce consumer goods and foods, or you believe in environmental accountability in food production and the fossil fuel industry.

Second, even if in this system of “dollar voting” you feel your voice is limited, think about others you can impact by influencing how they spend their dollars. 

Whether it’s the gifts you exchange with family during the holidays or birthdays, or the companies you follow, support, and share on social media, you have an opportunity to influence and educate those around you about using their dollars (votes) to support the business that back values of environmental sustainability and social welfare. 

This is a collective effort. Each individual adds a voice to the collective effort. And it’s an effort worth amplifying. 

If we commit to support and purchase from only certified B Corporations or verified socially responsible businesses (and encourage our friends and family to do the same), perhaps we can influence business culture as a whole.   

While this concept and “theory for change” surely isn’t perfect, it’s one aspect of positively impacting that we should still get right. 

What cause will your next purchase fight for (or against)?

Cory Ames

Cory Ames

Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble

Cory is the Co-Founder & CEO of Grow Ensemble, as well as the Host of The Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast. From Washington State, Cory now resides in San Antonio, TX with his brilliant fiancée and their rescue pup. Cory is deeply passionate about using his creative and cognitive capacities for doing good.

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