Ethical consumerism, or “green consumerism” as some call it, is a driving force in today’s market. Many people 18 and older have learned to buy products selectively, not only based on personal taste but also ethical standards, like cruelty-free production, treatment of workers and environmental impact certifications on products. Some consumers divest from entire brands when they learn a company is doing something that doesn’t align with their morals. This isn’t a new millennial trend, but it has grown in power in recent decades through free use of the internet and social media for transparency.
Consumers have the power to decide what they’re buying and the power to investigate before spending their money. While many of us won’t go looking for a reason to change our consumer habits, when news pops up with something obstructing our moral integrity, few people hesitate to keep their money and find an alternative. In the face of this fickle market, companies rely on their public relations teams to keep them afloat and control any disasters that threaten sales.
Recently, General Mills started a campaign to save declining honey bee numbers, which are essential for their famous Cheerios cereal. Consumers jumped at the chance of receiving free wildflower seeds in the mail and planting them in their yards. It was a good PR move that consumers got behind without hesitation. Unfortunately, many of us, myself included, did not think to investigate before believing. In truth, not only are some of the seeds in the free packets invasive species in different areas around the U.S. but General Mills has used and still uses Monsanto weed killer in their products — the number one insect killer used in food production.
According to The Huffington Post, Monsanto residues were found in General Mills products in higher quantities than the other top two brands, Kashi and Ritz, combined. Quite simply, General Mills can help us plant as many wild seeds as they want, but they’re still actively killing our vital pollinators.
On the other end of the transparency spectrum, we have Nestle and its bottled water. Nestle has not ceased its water extractions from the San Bernardino National Forest in California, despite the historic state-wide drought. On its website, Nestle claims that continuing to pump the water will provide thirsty Californians with the water they so desperately seek. Looking deeper, however, shows that those same Californians were ordered to cut their water use for the sole purpose of lessening the strain on natural reservoirs.
Meanwhile, Nestle pumped out 36 billion gallons of water in 2016 from California alone and turned around to sell it to the very residents it stole from. The kicker? Nestle’s water permits for the area have been expired since 1988, according to The Desert Sun, a Californian newspaper.
The rise of ethical consumerism has not brought an end to companies attempting to play nice in the light and swindle in the shadows. PR campaigns often exist solely to cover up mistakes, rather than learn from public demand and change the broader ethics of the company. Companies are eager to slap a green certification on their products to profit from green consumers, but few want to commit their production to green standards. And many of us blindly buy anything that appears to align with our morals on these issues.
With more and more green, cruelty-free, free-range, grass-fed, recycled plastic and biodegradable labels, we have become easily blindsided on a larger scale. Do your research and be fickle with your money. Make companies earn it through their actions.