We live in an age when the decisions made by politicians and big business can seem far removed from our every day lives. Actually influencing them sometimes feels overwhelming or indeed impossible. Brexit, income tax, bank bailouts, our NHS, how many of us feel that the debate is taking place without involving us?
Of course, many people in Scotland already do what they can to make the world a better place. We donate to charities, we volunteer in our community, we raise issues with the local council and we sometimes protest. But do these things really make us feel as if we’re changing society? Really challenging the elites and fixing the broken economy?
It can feel that we’re in a never-ending struggle – but it doesn’t have to be this way.
One of the best ways to empower ourselves is with consumer power. Choosing where you spend your money and where you shop can bring about lasting change.
Mass grassroots consumer campaigns already successfully influence big companies and government policies. You can influence those around you– family, colleagues and friends – and this can have a ripple effect too.
Fortunately there are alternative ways and places to shop, many of them in fact. Want a new iPhone? Buy a Fairphone instead. Gin or beer drinker? Buy a bottle of Ginerosity or a Brewgooder beer. Get energy from one of the big six suppliers? Switch to cheaper, greener Our Power. Invest money with a bank that puts shareholder profits before customers? Switch to ethical Triodos Bank and your local credit union.
When we buy gifts for family and friends we can choose ethical marketplaces instead of Amazon. The online Big Issue Shop, Traidcraft, Ethical Superstore and One World Shop are some of the increasing number of places for sustainable goods, with a mix of ethical, environmentally-friendly and social enterprise products.
In Scotland there are ethical shops in your neighbourhood too. You could shop at Kidzeco in West Lothian for affordable, quality children’s clothes and toys, The Shetland Soap Company for skincare products or Glasgow Wood Recycling for recycled and upcycled furniture.
There’s Grassmarket Tartans that helps homeless people and Hey Girls sanitary products tackling period poverty. Perhaps book an outdoor adventure at Port Edgar Watersports or a stay at the picturesque Hartfield House in Applecross?
There are groups of ethical consumers like Ethical Living Scotland and directories of co-ops and social enterprises are available online. Ethical Consumer magazine helps people make better shopping choices. It allows readers to compare high street retailers on a range of criteria and find some of the ethical alternatives.
Certainly consumerism has its downsides. Addiction is the aim of advertising, whether it’s telling people to drink alcohol or targeting kids to buy junk food. We should challenge our own behaviours and try to stop consuming too much in the first place.
We have to start pro-actively questioning rather than being passive consumers. With debt and low pay, changing our shopping habits can benefit us financially too. This is the real way to take back control.
As consumers we can collectively influence governments and big business and ensure that they put people and planet first. There are many small, individual shopping decisions that can have a big impact too – consumer choices that are not only affordable and easy to do but choices that can make the world a much better place.
Duncan Thorp, policy and communications manager, Social Enterprise Scotland.