Things to consider when you’re shopping ethically

When I go shopping — whether its for lentils or a vacation — a string of self-reflective questions run through my mind. (Was I Quaker in a past life? I doubt my Puritan ancestors would have approved. The Baptist ones might have coped.)

  • Do I need this? can I put off buying this?
  • Do I even really want it? or could the same money provide something I want more?
  • Does this item or store appeal to my vanity?
  • Was someone harmed in making this item or service? A community? A valued institution? an animal? Is its manufacture toxic?
  • Can I choose something that was grown or made close to home? Took less energy to produce or transport?

I could go on, but these are probably the biggest concerns. From these questions, I try to buy US or Canadian made and union and cooperative made goods because our laws and location cover more of these than not; it isn’t about jingoism or nativism.
That’s not to say I start from scratch thinking every time. After a while, you know yourself well enough to shorthand the process. Most people I know would never (knowingly) buy dog fur clothing, so it’s not a question of thinking which dog fur clothing manufacturer treats its workers the best, improves the local economy or has the greenest factory: you just avoid it, and perhaps give the retailer an earful for good measure. And, in time, you find reliable vendors and products. (I want to share these, and I’ll ask you to share your favorites.)

But remember, the idea’s not to get paralyzed negotiating between options to find the one that’s infinitesimally better than another. We should begin to reshape our lives in all ways, understanding that what we buy and how we buy or don’t buy is a reflection of our character and grows out of our vocation as faithful people.

We’ve seen the alternative — I want it, I have to have it at all costs — corrupt individuals and societies. Indeed, societies have died under less strain.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.


  1. It’s really amazing to me how many of us do operate with the “I want it, I have to have it at all costs” mentality.

    You might consider adding to the list of questions something to the effect of, “Can I borrow it? Share it with others? Buy it used?”

  2. I have been particularly enjoying your posting trend of late.

    I think conscious shopping is a good thing. While it is not always possible for people in rural communities or those below a certain financial threshold to access such goods, it is at least worthwhile to be thinking about it and to make the effort whenever feasible, or whenever it would require manageable effort to do so. People can do better.

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