Sustainability, labor conditions, politics and other issues have left many consumers wondering how to be socially responsible. Shopping ethically starts with educating yourself and supporting the products that align with your values. Here's what you can do:
Check certifications and ratings
Labels such as "Fair Trade Certified" or "USDA Organic" signify that a product's supply chain has gone through some level of vetting. However, standards can vary widely.
Dr. Ellis Jones, author of "The Better World Shopping Guide," considers the B Corp. Certification, which companies such as Patagonia and Seventh Generation have earned, the gold standard.
Shop less or secondhand
Before buying, think about whether you really need it. If you do, look for options that have a smaller footprint, said Casey Taylor, a partner in Bain and Co.'s retail practice. Invest in used products or in reusable, high-quality or easy-to-repair items. Check thrift shops, garage sales and community groups like the Freecycle Network. Another sustainable solution? Rent clothes through services like Le Tote and Rent the Runway.
Choose slower online deliveries
Retailers like Amazon have made selecting fast shipping a reflex, but it's not always the most ethical option. When shopping online, choosing standard shipping over same-day or next-day delivery can ensure multiple items in an order ship together. "For the environment, it reduces packaging and the number of drop-offs, and for customers, it's just one less box that you need to recycle," Taylor said.
Visit your neighborhood bakery or farmers market rather than a large chain. Supporting local businesses or buying locally grown produce is generally better for the environment because it decreases the distance that products have to travel, Taylor said.
It also gives consumers the opportunity to ask merchants directly for details about how products are sourced and made.
Find small ways to reduce waste, such as keeping reusable bags or a coffee cup in the car or by the front door. That way, you'll have them when you need them. "Simple choices add up if you think about the number of times that you walk into a store or pop by a coffee shop," Taylor said. Developing positive habits takes practice. But with a little effort, shopping ethically can become second nature.