Conscious Consumerism: Questions to ask when deciding what businesses to support

Corporate social responsibility to the environment has become a top priority, as more organisations recognise the importance of sustainable practices – for a healthier planet and for their bottom line.

Over the past few years, 85 percent of the population has made a decision to prefer sustainable purchases, and 33 percent of millennials opt for a sustainable product when available. With increasing environmental concerns shifting consumer behaviours, businesses have had no choice but to act on these sustainability trends to stay afloat.

A recent study by technology firm GreenPrint found that approximately two-thirds of Americans want to buy eco-sustainable products, but 74 percent are unsure how to distinguish what they are. If you’re a consumer attempting to decide what ethical businesses to support, you should ask the following questions.

Are your products eco-friendly?

By buying products from a business, you show your utmost support. However, if you’re looking to be more sustainable and make smarter, more ethical purchases, it’s essential to understand what makes their products eco-friendly and worth buying in the first place.

What did it take to manufacture that product? How much energy and natural resources did it utilise? Where does the company source its materials, and what sustainable practices go into production?

Considering one-fifth of global greenhouse gases derive from the manufacturing and production sectors, companies that position themselves as “green” should be able to tell you exactly how their products end up on the shelves – from product development to materials to transport.

Do you use recyclable packaging?

Waste from packaging and containers accounted for 82.2 million tons of municipal solid waste in the United States in 2018.

Additionally, about 14 million tons of plastic pollution enter the ocean annually, making up 80 percent of all marine trash found. This poses a serious risk to aquatic species and ecosystems.

It’s essential to ask a company if they use recyclable packaging for their products. For example, you might recognise products wrapped in paper, cardboard, or glass instead of plastic. A manager or employee may also be able to tell you more about the packaging used.

Where Are Your Products Made?

When you opt to buy locally grown or locally made products, you can help cut back on transport emissions while further supporting regional growers and artisans. There are several other benefits of shopping local, including the following:

  • Locally owned businesses are more likely to support other local businesses.
  • You can help cut back on shipping transportation emissions.
  • Purchasing local is an investment in the community.
  • You can support regional economic growth and increase employment opportunities.
  • About 66 percent of small businesses donate to local charities and community services.

Making local purchases is better for the environment and local profits. Asking a business where their products are made and come from gives you a better idea of where your money is essentially going.

Do you partner with green suppliers?

From manufacturing to transportation, businesses have an option to work with green suppliers.

Let’s say you went out to dinner for seafood. Wouldn’t you prefer to know that the restaurant works with a supplier interested in maintaining sustainable lobster populations instead of carrying out harmful fishing practices?

Inquire with businesses about whether or not they align themselves with other green companies and partners every step of the way. Green companies will ensure a sustainable supply chain with the following practices:

  • Establish long-term eco-sustainable goals.
  • Motivate first-tier suppliers to set their own sustainability goals.
  • Include lower-tier suppliers in green strategies.
  • Appoint someone to boost the company’s sustainability objectives to suppliers and make sure standards are met.

What are your organisation’s sustainability goals?

Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask point-blank what a company’s sustainability goals are. If a particular business has publicly touted its commitment to sustainability, understanding what its metrics are is essential.

Do they have a strategic sustainability plan, and is it regularly updated to meet the evolving needs of environmentally friendly business practices? Studies show that 67 percent of strategic plans fail because they don’t focus enough on objectives outside the company, such as consumer desires and behaviours, what competitors are doing, and top trends like eco-friendliness.

An ethical business committed to environmental stewardship and sustainability will have set feasible benchmarks for itself and be capable of explaining how they are meeting objectives.

What sustainability challenges does your company face?

Asking a business what challenges it faces in becoming more sustainable may seem like an unlikely question. However, it can reveal a lot.

An effective strategic plan always factors in several obstacles that may hinder success. A sustainable business knows to address those challenges early and develop ways they might work to overcome them if they arise.

It also allows the customer to determine whether businesses are putting their sustainability plans into action long-term. How will a company stay committed without understanding the progress being made and potential setbacks?

How do you give back?

An ethical, eco-conscious company should be giving back to the planet in several ways. While working with green suppliers and offering eco-friendly products is important, businesses can do so much more to improve the environment.

For example, a certain amount of proceeds may go towards a local conservation project, or maybe the company has committed itself to planting trees for every product sold. If you buy a candle at a home decor store, does the company donate a dollar amount to a reforestation nonprofit?

Perhaps a business engages its employees in park cleanups or another community volunteer initiative instead. Find out how your purchase enables a company to give back where it truly counts.

Sustainable Business Is a Team Effort

Ethical business practices derive from consumer demand. Without your desire for more eco-friendly products and services, businesses may not be as accountable for developing and implementing their sustainability goals in the market. Show your support for the companies making an actual difference for the environment.

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Cora Gold

Cora Gold is the Editor-in-Chief of women’s lifestyle magazine Revivalist ( She strives to live as best as she can, and she loves to share her experiences with life, adventure, sustainability and more through her writing. Follow Cora on Twitter (@CoraGold2), Pinterest (@revivalistmag) and Facebook (@revivalistmag).

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