Your Wallet Changes The Marketplace

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

My parents were frugal long before the practice was eco-friendly. They’d never heard the term “repurposing” but my mother made slips from worn sheets and used tattered clothing as rags. (She told me I was overreacting when I refused to use my dad’s old tighty whities as dust cloths.) My father reused nails, string, cardboard, even the sheet metal from a broken hot water tank. If we needed single use items, we could feel our parents watching us to ensure that we used a sliver of tape or a quarter-sheet of paper towel. Sure, they spent, but they did so based on carefully considered ethics. They put money into a piano, weekly music lessons for three kids, and vacations entirely focused on education.

These days, some of my parent’s methods are downright trendy. I have to admit,  I learned quite a bit about responsibility, self-reliance, and creative use of materials from them. And there’s plenty of evidence that living more simply benefits kids in surprising ways.

Those of us raising kids today are more likely than previous generations to make informed choices about our purchases. We expect access to the backstory of products and services before we buy. We might prefer whole foods, but we read labels. And we take it a few steps further. We may look into the newest data about certain ingredients, check out ratings of the company’s background in corporate ethics, or look up reviews of competing brands. Often we prefer to buy from a farmer’s market so we can talk to the grower face to face. This information-based consumerism is changing the marketplace in areas such as energy, health care, food, and tourism.

Industries serving these buyers have their own nickname, LOHAS, which stands for Lifestyle of Health and Sustainability. Based on surveys of 215 million people, one in four Americans are consumers attracted to “goods and services focused on health, the environment, social justice, personal development and sustainable living.” This is a 290 billion dollar market. We really do vote with our dollars.

The concerns of LOHAS consumers have made significant changes in the market, from organics on Walmart shelves to reduced packaging in all sorts of products. Consumer demand forced industry to limit the use of BPA in plastics and to spurn bovine growth hormone in dairy products. Plenty of new challenges are on the horizon. One biggie may very well be spurred by a recent Natural Resources Defense Council report indicating that top-set TV boxes for cable and digital service sap more power in our homes than the average refrigerator. Often these devices are the single largest electricity drain in our homes. Overall, the electricity to run them costs U.S. households three million dollars a year.  Why aren’t these devices available with stand-by and deep sleep mode? Largely because consumers haven’t demanded it. Yet.

I haven’t made my kids use their dad’s old undies as dust rags but we live pretty simply here. I’ve spared them indulgences like fancy toys, designer clothes, or the thrill of being ferried around in a late model car. Maybe that’s had an effect. I am heartened to see how carefully they check out what they buy.  I suspect the next generation of consumers will keep changing the marketplace. Here are some resources to make that path more easily navigated.

 

 

Resources

 

Attainable Sustainable, a site run by our own GeekMom Kris Bordessa, provides practical and doable tips for the living more sustainably.

Crocodyl provides searchable profiles of corporations. This service, offered by CorpWatch.org, is based on extensive information provided by researchers, journalists and non-profit organizations.

Green Living Guides provided by the Natural Resources Defense Council supply tips on topics such as greening your event, protecting your family from mercury, and controlling pests safely.

Environmental Working Group provides up-to-date reports for conscientious shoppers. Recent ratings included least polluting cars and the safest ingredients in soap.

Freecycle promotes local offers of free goods from those who want to give to those who have a need. This keeps useable items out of landfills and connects people within their communities.

Knowmore is a web community sharing information about corporate responsibility with a searchable database for conscious consumers and activists.

Center for a New American Dream offers detailed resources for making ethical choices, whether convincing one’s company to purchase ecologically sound products or ridding local schools of commercialism.

The Better World Shopping Guide: Every Dollar Makes a Difference is a pocket reference grading companies in a range of sectors, from department stores to prepared foods.

The Blue Pages, 2nd Edition: A Directory of Companies Rated by Their Politics and Practices

The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World is a reference guide to simple and conscientious shopping.