A few months ago, I wrapped up one if not the most incredible adventure of my life; I spent nearly 2 years traveling around all 6 corners of the world (I circled the globe twice hence the additional 2 corners) and if there’s one thing I was left very much convinced of at the end of my trip it’s that the world needs all the ethical and sustainable brands it can get!
From the seemingly never ending litter of plastic debris lining the banks of the river Nile in Giza, Egypt to the wild beauty of Tierra del Fuego in the Argentinean Patagonia, from the now pristine but formerly war stricken streets of Hiroshima, Japan to the bicycle-decorated cobbled streets of central Copenhagen, from the timeless Incan ruins of Cusco in Peru to the extravagant marina of Dubai, I saw how ethical brands made each and everyone of those scenarios, places and cities better.
In fact, rather than being overwhelmed by the challenges of self-preservation we face as a species, I was left inspired by the endless opportunities and possibilities for the next phase of our evolution. Why? Because I have seen what the future of consumerism looks like and I can tell you now that it will be powered by brands both new and old whose mission or purpose will extend beyond just making a profit but also include uplifting communities, societies and our planet.
I call it “The Emancipation of Consumerism into Cause-sumerism“. And much like the industrial revolution ushered a new age of human progress and led to pioneering technologies and new social mores, many of which we still enjoy today, ethical and sustainable brands will create (are creating) seismic shifts in the underlying tectonic plates of our economies, thoughts and behaviors. These vibrations might still be faint and perceivable only to a small number of people and industries but it will change quickly and the resulting impact will be exponential. It couldn’t come fast enough if you were to ask me.
When I look at my own personal journey into actively becoming a more conscious consumer, which began well over 10 years ago with my first pair of TOMS info shoes, I was left incredibly frustrated by the lack of convenience in adopting such lifestyle. I’d worked in retail in my early college days so I had a very good understanding of the production cost of clothing and their profit margins but every time I bought a pair of TOMS shoes, the sale price was vastly irrelevant to me – knowing I was also offering a pair of shoes to a child in need had all the appeal I needed as a consumer and human.
It felt good.
So when I tried to extend this feeling to products other than shoes, there was no easy way I could discover brands that also supported social or environment causes I cared about. Search engines such as Google and others didn’t help much as I couldn’t filter the search results to only show brands. I mean, who makes it past the second page of Google anyways? Secondly, I couldn’t rely on ads as most ethical or sustainable brands are typically running on such low resources and tight margins or budgets that paying for advertising is not a luxury they can afford. And as such, they rely greatly on word of mouth or the occasional pop-up shop but even word of mouth requires a network effect of likeminded people. Fifteen or ten years ago that network of socially responsible consumers, let’s call it “The League of Extraordinary Consumers“, existed but the members were so far apart that it was practically impossible to connect those dots.
However, today it’s a different story. All around the world, there’s an increasingly growing number of the population that’s identifying itself as members of The League of Extraordinary Consumers, an adoption fueled in part by countless Millennials who understand that they don’t have stick with the poor hand of cards they’ve inherited from their parents and grand-parents. As a matter of fact, they don’t have to take over the seats their parents left on that table; they can go create their own entirely different game with hopefully vastly improved rules. From choosing brands to wear to buying a house (or building a tiny house), Millennials have introduced a much needed paradigm shift in the consumerism equation.
Furthermore, there are now sites dedicated to ethical shopping, industries are burgeoning with sustainability at their core and even legacy brands that have been around for many years are finding ways to reinvent themselves amidst a flood of marketing buzzwords such as eco-friendly, green, up-cycle, slow-fashion and the list goes on. Many people will look at them and say most of it is disingenuous, perhaps it is and perhaps it is not but what matters the most is the direction towards which we are all starting to move – the idea that what we produce and/or consume should not come at the detriment of our greater good or welfare, including the planet and maybe one day the universe.
For positive change to be everlasting it needs both a top-down and bottoms-up approach, regardless of which comes first. It needs the grass root movement and the boardroom elites, the young social enterprises and the large corporations, as long as we all share the same vision or objective, one of a world where consumerism, gives rise to cause-sumerism.
Just as salmons that have defied great odds and swam upriver to spawn only to die shortly thereafter, we must accept that there’s a cycle to life and it is not always pretty. Despite all the charges we’ve thrown against it, once upon a time we needed today’s consumerism. It is easy to look back now and call out all the mistakes we’ve made and/or are making but let’s not forget all the prosperity it has also brought.
That said, the time has come for a new and better way for us to cause-sume and live.
And, it is because I strongly hold this belief that ethical and sustainable brands matter to me.