Voting With Your Dollar:
Empower Your Everyday Purchases

by | Nov 11, 2020

One of the biggest impediments to effecting change through daily action is that we often view real change as requiring one of two things: either introducing completely new conduct into your routine, or completely eliminating something well-entrenched in your life.

It’s reasonable that we aren’t always in a place to accept those challenges and commit to a complete lifestyle change. That reality shapes a critical part of our mission here at Grow Ensemble: Sometimes change doesn’t require you to completely change what you’re doing. Sometimes it only requires you to change how or where you’re doing it.

A huge example of this philosophy: voting with your dollar.

Meet Our Partner: A Good Company

The first step to change is letting people know about the cause, and our partners at A Good Company are all about making change in the world of conscious consumerism!

A Good Company is on a mission to transform mindless consumption into conscious decisions. They create everyday products that are anything but ordinary, putting in the extra mile for each product and process, to ensure that they are always as responsible as humanly possible. How do we know that sustainability is their top priority? Because they share everything publicly from product ideation to the details of packaging materials.

Check out our friends at A Good Company, or learn about other Grow Ensemble partners here.

What Does It Mean to Vote with Your Dollar?

What is voting with your dollar? 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 does not mean you’re looking for additional expenditures to support causes you believe in (but of course, financial contributions and donations can be a good way to help out a movement you care about). It also doesn’t mean you’re eliminating all expenditures altogether. 

Instead, we are looking at reduction, and what you won’t be reducing, consider more values-aligned replacements. 

So, you’re taking the same actions, but doing them differently. “Replacements” can be an extremely effective way to break or curtail a habit you’d like to change, and here, we want to break the habit of mindless consumption

For example, if you wanted to kick your morning caffeine habit (who knows why you’d ever want to 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.

It boils down to two questions before you pull your wallet: Do I need or even actually want the thing I am buying? No? Snuggle that wallet back into your pocket. Yes? Is the provider of this thing I am buying creating, producing, and delivering it in a way that is good for the planet and the people on it? If not, is there another provider who does? Opt for them.

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. In fact, it is quite the opposite! This is about sharing the opportunity (and power) you already do have. When you begin to develop these voting goggles, you can start to see just how much control you have over the world around you.

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’re casting 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” alone won’t be the silver bullet to creating a more just, equitable, and hospitable world for all since “voter suppression” often through financial barriers can (and do) influence the election results (but more on that later). 

In spite of this, it’s still vitally important we as consumers, human beings, and citizens of the world 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 empowering is that?! I mean how often is there an election day? 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 a political 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.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.
  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)!
making purchases

How to Vote with Your Dollars Sustainably

“Of all the skills of leadership, listening is the most valuable—and one of the least understood. Most captains of industry listen only sometimes, and they remain ordinary leaders. But a few, the great ones, never stop listening. That’s how they get word before anyone else of unseen problems and opportunities.”
— Peter Nulty

Companies who are worth your vote are those who listen well. Like any great leader, they are aware of and care about the impact of their decisions, not just for the select few, but for the wellbeing of everyone (and everything) involved.

And so, how do you choose these kinds of leaders and responsibly vote with your doll hairs?

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.

We want to look for those industry leaders who are truly listening and taking action. If you’re going to get sunscreen for your day out, is there a way to direct those dollars to a company fighting climate change and making reef-safe sunscreen? If you’re going to buy your morning coffee on your way to work, is there a small business who buys fair trade coffee that you can help support? When you need a new pair of kicks, what sustainable shoe companies can you check out instead of your usual suspects? 

If you’re going to buy something online, consider using A Good Company and other Amazon alternatives to ensure it’s made and delivered ethically. Or if you’re going to buy household goods, is there a business that sells sustainable home products safe for your family and the environment? Looking for a new mattress to replace that old innerspring? Think about buying from a company like Leesa Sleep who puts people and planet at the forefront of their mission.

In this way, every need or want is an opportunity to spark change and the opportunities are everywhere!

Here are some of Grow Ensemble’s favorite ways to make more considerate decisions about where our dollars go: 

1. Look for Associations & Certifications

Certifications aren’t everything, but they are often a good starting point. 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. 

Certified businesses subject themselves to accountability with the certifying agency, other businesses, and their customers. 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 corporationsCertified B Corporations — Take a look at the bcorporation.net 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! The B Impact Assessment companies must pass is multi-level and labor and resource intensive. If you encounter the “B” out in the world as you are shopping, feel at ease you are making a better buying decision. 

one percent for the planet graphic1% 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 that a portion of sales is going to those fighting to protect our planet. Learn more about the movement on our podcast episode with founder, Kate Williams!)

climate neutral standardsCertified Climate NeutralA relatively new certification, all brands listed here have committed to measure their carbon footprint, reduce everything they can, and offset the rest. Climate Neutral founder, Austin Whitman, and his team are working to lower our carbon footprint, one company at a time.

There are multiple organizations that help businesses not only achieve carbon neutrality, but actually become climate positive. Most companies that opt for this kind of environmental impact will share which organization they work with to reduce and offset.

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

All these certifications make it easy to know, spot, and support better-for-the-world businesses. Check out our Grow Ensemble 50 Most Socially and Environmentally Responsible Companies to learn about the companies we love to support!

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 travel less distance (often with little to no packaging) to get to you! 

Even there, consider the farming practices of the vendors. The future of agriculture is heading toward regenerative organic farming, which includes practices that can reverse climate change through soil health. Talk about getting the most with each dollar spent!

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

Yes— it can be more expensive, but where possible, consider the long term costs of food that has been produced with cut corners. Beyond their negative environmental impact, cheaper processed foods and produce with chemical residues can lead to health complications whose costs could be much higher later in life. Where you can swing it, think of it as an investment into your health!

And AGAIN, it doesn’t mean you have to buy everything organic and local all the time—voting with your dollar doesn’t mean a total upheaval of your lifestyle. It can mean visiting the farmers’ market once a month instead of the grocery store or just buying produce that is in season locally (as they most likely will come from closer sources).

These small changes add up, both individually and collectively. 

In shopping online: 

E-commerce has changed how we shop, and it has completely changed the impact our shopping has. But, there are good actors out there in the space of online commerce. Our partners at A Good Company not only recognize the historic shortcomings of the e-commerce industry, but they are persistently and diligently working to amplify the voices who are all too often left out of the picture at each step in the online shopping process.

So what shortcomings are we talking about? Well, 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 a responsible company or B-corp’s website or from an Amazon alternative who is practicing responsible e-commerce.

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 a marketplace harming the environment and people in its wake. 

Alternatively, take a look at if there are any local retailers within biking or walking distance that sell what you need. A visit to your local secondhand shop the next time you need an item is a great way to support a circular economy (and will probably save you money!). 

Save the environment and some trouble and stimulate your local economy by shopping “offline.” Small business owners are almost always people who live in your neighborhood or area—stimulating the local economy by supporting local businesses can go a long way in strengthening and protecting your community against external variants that may harm your community, like, let’s say…a global pandemic.

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.

This is a really accessible way to vote with your dollar that doesn’t rely on financial ability, in fact, it will almost always save you money. Can’t afford to make the switch to eco-friendly cleaners? Make your own (dish soap and vinegar can go a long way)!

Believe it or not, we don’t need as much as the people selling things have led us to believe. Being resourceful about what we do have and finding ways to use the same products for multiple purposes can be key to opting out of toxic consumerism. Time to get creative!

Being more attuned with what is a need and what is a want will not only simplify and enhance our personal lives, it can help change our collective perceptions about the purpose of consumerism and entrepreneurship.

Companies are in on it too! Every year on Black Friday, REI shuts its doors (online and offline) to encourage people to #optoutside. A Good Company also nixes consumer “holidays,” and actually leads Green November instead.

green november

You too, can do the same by not engaging in the commerce of the day. Don’t believe in the consumer values that Black Friday and Cyber Monday might represent? 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!

REI optoutside

Consumer boycotts and opt-outs can cause a publicity upheaval for culprit companies, possibly causing them to shift their own policies or practices. More importantly, they also elevate our collective expectations about the purpose and obligations of businesses and corporations.

Consumers, businesses, and governments must act together to develop these kinds of expectations so that we can further environmental and social justice initiatives. Together, we can make these good-for-the-world expectations become the norm and in doing so, minimize “voter suppression” and make conscious consumerism more accessible to all. Let’s explore more…

What Role Does “Voting With Your Dollar” Play in the Greater Scope of Impacting Wholescale 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. Like in other kinds of elections, voter suppression exists in the vote with your dollar election.

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 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 or how often, 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, you aim to live zero waste, 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. No matter your financial situation, there is always a way to let your voice be heard and to amplify the voices of others.

Whether it’s setting the theme of eco-friendly gifts in your family exchange this holiday season, 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. Be a vote with your dollar activist!

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

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

Again, as more of us (and especially the ones who are more able), opt to vote with our dollar every chance we get, we raise the expectations and norms of how business is done. By increasing the demand of ethical products, we incentivize our corporate leaders to make them more available to everyone.

Voting with your dollar is just one tool in our fight for a more equitable society. Consumers, businesses, and governments must work together to create a more just marketplace through legislation, regulation, and reform. Voting with your dollar is one of the most powerful ways to start and support this collective movement.

While this concept and “theory for change” surely isn’t perfect, it’s one aspect of positive impact 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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