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Shopping II — Consumer Activism

Updated: Mar 25, 2022


My mind turned to boycotts after receiving an oversized box stuffed with plastic bubble wrap from West Elm. If companies can't do better, shouldn't we stop doing business with them? As a matter of fairness, I wrote West Elm's customer service to get their side of it. However, in the three weeks since, I have not received a response to my packaging complaint. I have; however, ended up on their marketing list. Now, adding insult to injury, they spam me everyday. Yes, unsubscribing is making its way to the top of my to-do list.


As you know, national and international boycotts have accomplished some pretty amazing things: from the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which put a nail in the coffin of segregation here to the international boycotts that ended apartheid in South Africa and forced Nike to up its environmental game; these large-scale efforts have yielded impressive results.


And while there are climate-change villains worthy of boycotts, (I don't buy gas from Exxon or Chevron) many companies will move toward sustainability under the steady drip of consumer demand. In the case of West Elm, when I started doing some research, I fully expected to find them on somebody's baddie list, but they weren't. West Elm had set up fair-trade goals. They did not meet their goals, but they did admit that publicly. It's a start.


This all reminds me of children in my classroom who try to behave, but only achieve intermittent success, I don't want to call home every time they slip up, but consequences move them in the right direction. So, if you still buy your candles from West Elm, I won't condemn you, but consumer activism, as the positive flip side of the boycott coin, offers an alternative worth considering. It's the conscience choice of spending our dollars on items and with companies whose work doesn't destroy the things we love.


I took an informal survey among friends and family and found that consumer activism comes naturally for some. They said, in various ways, call it what you like, but it's really just being sensible.


Food is an area where the majority of us must purchase what we consume, and it has an enormous impact on the planet. I have a friend who buys whole foods rather than processed foods. He says that what one trades away in convenience provides us with healthier options. As an example, he opts for oatmeal over oat milk because it's less processed. Okay, I still stand by my oat milk habit—it tastes better in coffee, but I've tried to take a page out of his book. Now I'm looking for sellers who offer bulk or loose herbs and vegetables. Why have I been buying them in those little plastic packs?


My sister, Holly Boyer Dorr, embraces technology to get things done. (She's managed to lease solar panels for her Maryland farm.) Holly uses apps to find healthy food and suggested I do the same for sustainable shopping. Sure enough, a little digging yielded Done Good, a shopping website and app that helps one find sustainable and ethical products.



Sensible spending can also go beyond what we get from Amazon or the local grocery store. My aunt and uncle, Rosalie Ann and Robert Beasley, are way ahead of the curve when it comes to sustainability. (They installed geothermal technology to heat their home years ago.) My aunt explained that often it's just their way of being frugal. In the realm of travel they enjoy going on cruises, but they've found a way to do it without harming the ocean in the process. According to my aunt, "I don't remember actually boycotting a company, but there are some cruise ship companies that aren't very good about disposing of garbage, and toilet waste. We belong to the Seven Seas Cruising Association, which is mostly sailors who have circumnavigated or done long sailing trips - they are dedicated to leaving a 'clean wake.'"



In my neighborhood and around the world some people find the best spending is no spending. They trade gently used items like toys and household goods rather than buying new. I have friends that exchange a ton of children's clothing through groups like Buy Nothing.



Some may argue that these choices are small potatoes when compared to the harm caused by big polluters—who often seem beyond our reach. But if we add up all of these small actions, I believe we will influence others. We can push our society forward on the path to sustainable change. So what are your shopping strategies?






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Guest
Mar 25, 2022

My shopping strategies are to buy less. I'm always asking myself if I need or want the item I am thinking about getting. I also hate over-packaging. This ridiculousness has even extended to books. Just last week I received a book in a box that could have held five books. Instead, the one book was buried in enough styrofoam popcorn to feed the audience of a small theater. Then I'm stuck with all the styrofoam bits, not wanting to toss them in the trash. What's an earth caring person supposed to do?

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dkane0819
dkane0819
Mar 25, 2022
Replying to

I understand. Books do not need to be packed in styrafoam! I have bought some books on ebay and have not had that problem. Although I'm generally purchasing used books from small book sellers. I hope this helps.

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Guest
Mar 24, 2022

The cardboard box can be recycled, or better, reused as a present, wrapping it with brown paper to hide any markings. Or used for storage for unused items and when it us filled, donated.

Just ask yourself how much time and travel time it would of been if you drove from place to place to find that one item.

Yes, packaging cand be not as big as some companies have ( like a bag of chips or pretzels)


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dkane0819
dkane0819
Mar 25, 2022
Replying to

Those are good ideas. Sometimes that works out, and sometimes I don't have anything big to send and it hangs out in the basement for ages. Thanks for the suggestions!

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Guest
Mar 24, 2022

This is one of the main themes of Earth Day 2022. I am trying to figure out a way to promote this idea… Any thoughts?

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dkane0819
dkane0819
Mar 25, 2022
Replying to

If I understand correctly, you're looking for ways to promoting consumer activism? I like supporting small sellers. They tend to give more attention to sustainability. I think talking about this and our exchange here are good first steps.

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RosalieAnn Beasley
RosalieAnn Beasley
Mar 24, 2022

One of the places that I went when I was an OSHA inspector was a warehouse where the workers were selecting items from the shelves of products to ship to customers. It was much more efficient for them to use a big box and fill the empty space with peanuts than it would be for them to figure out for individual orders the smallest box that would work. And it probably the products would be better protected from damage in shipping. Companies are going to do what is easiest for them and most time efficient.


I am currently trying to get rid of stuff - things that I have accumulated or inherited from my parents and grandparents. That often involve…


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dkane0819
dkane0819
Mar 25, 2022
Replying to

I tend to agree, but I think that if companies realize that they're turning off potential customers with inefficient packaging, then that's incentive for them to figure it out. That's why I wrote to West Elm, but I don't think it made any difference in this case.

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