Ethical buying: the next market trend?

August 22, 2008

It’s always interesting to think about how things have changed.

A few decades ago, the only people giving carbon emissions a second thought were scientists. Now, we’re seeing such a shift in attitudes toward the environment that companies who fail to take notice and make changes will likely lose out to their environmentally conscious competition.

The momentum doesn’t seem to be slowing down either. More and more people are becoming personally and professionally invested in environmental change. Buyers are starting to ask questions about environmental impacts as well as price. We’re seeing a more informed generation.

The increase in awareness can’t be a bad thing. In fact, it might just be what leads us to the next big change. Perhaps one day we’ll find ourselves wanting to know even more about what we’re buying. And it might not be enough to know that a product doesn’t emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs). What about the people who made it? Were they treated fairly? Ethical buying decisions could become the new sustainability.

The idea behind buying ethically is based on purchasing products that have been made without harming the environment or exploiting individuals and animals. Of course, the definition of ‘ethical’ will leave us with a lot of grey area, but the idea itself may catch on like concern for the planet has.

Right now, we are starting to see more response to human equality in the initial Buying ConversationTM-fair trade products are gaining recognition and some buyers will punish those brands that have a reputation for poor worker policies. That said, factoring ethics into our buying decisions hasn’t made quite the buzz that environmental responsibility has…yet.

In the meantime, watch how the big brands are changing their policies for their suppliers. The Hudson’s Bay Company, for example, has an Ethical Sourcing Program whereby all suppliers must meet laws and regulations to satisfy environmental and employment requirements (i.e. no forced labour, no child labour, no harassment/abuse, betterment of wages and benefits, reasonable work). To enforce their policies, they conducted over 1000 supply chain audits.

More and more companies are looking into ethical policies. And whether it’s for good PR or not, it may not be long until buyers are both professionally and personally committed to seeing social change.

We’ll just have to see.

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