Every purchase you have ever made is a vote.
It’s a vote that says you support a product, the business that makes it, and what the business stands for. You might not even know it, but you’ve been doing this consciously or unconsciously since you were little.
So what’s the big deal?
Well, many companies, in fact, I’d say MOST companies, have pretty questionable ethics, are negatively impacting the environment, and are making humans and animals sick.
It’s not ignorance, either. At least on behalf of the corporations. Corporations often know the caustic effect of their product (or the byproducts that go into making their product) and usually favor profit over public health, until it becomes a legal issue, if it ever does.
Let’s talk about the “Radium Girls” of the 1920s. These poor souls were hired by the US Radium Corporation to paint the faces of wrist watches with radium, an exciting new element that glows in the dark. What the girls didn’t know is that radium, being high radioactive, is extremely carcinogenic.
Image Source: https://allthatsinteresting.com/radium-girls
These girls would lick their paintbrushes, covered in radium, in order to make a finer point to paint the watch faces. In time, the horrific effects of radium exposure became very clear. What was even worse, the watch companies knew the dangers of the radium and did nothing to protect their employees. They even went as far as accusing these girls of having loose morals, maliciously claiming that their their illness was a result of STDs.
“…The whole thing becomes a legal nightmare when in order to obtain justice five women have to go to court and prove that they are dying while lawyers and experts on the other side [argue in the newspapers]…”
– Walter Lippmann, journalist for the New York World
At the time, radium was used in countless products, from make up, to pastries, to toothpaste. Here are some ads from the 1920s soliciting radium:
When the dangers of radium began to be exposed, the US Radium Corporation went out of their way to deny their wrongdoing and avoid paying victims any compensation until ordered to by the Supreme Court in 1927.
Though this case paved the way for workplace safety laws in the US, this issue of companies creating hazardous environments for employees, the public, and the environment is still commonplace.
In the 1960s, 3M (the company that makes Scotch Tape) and Dupont (the company that makes Teflon) exposed their employees to chemicals that caused severe birth defects in pregnant women.
Additionally, Perfluorooctanoic acid, or C8, a chemical byproduct of Teflon, is now found in the blood stream of 99% of Americans, and most of the world.
“PFOA has the potential to be a health concern because it can stay in the environment and in the human body for long periods of time. Studies have found that it is present worldwide at very low levels in just about everyone’s blood. Higher blood levels have been found in community residents where local water supplies have been contaminated by PFOA. People exposed to PFOA in the workplace can have levels many times higher.”
The point of this post is not to scare the public into a mass state of hypochondria, or to persuade you to stop buying products. Not at all! The goal is inspire you, the consumers, to research the businesses you purchase from. When you buy a 3M product, be it scotch tape or teflon, you’re unknowingly saying that you support unethical business practices and making innocent people sick.
“there are still lessons to be learned about how we protect people who work with new, untested substances.”
– Mae Keane, one of the last Radium Girls to survive.
So how do you ensure you’re not endorsing these companies with YOUR money?
Before I explain, I want to reiterate that ZWC is in not paid to endorse any company.
Having said that, there are definitely some companies out there worth checking out. Seventh Generation, for example, is based on the Seventh Generation Principle of the Great Law of the Iroquois, stating that, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation… even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.” (Source) Or in other words, that every action is sustainable for seven generations into the future.
Amazon.com, on the other hand, has don’t next to nothing for the environment. They provide no options for consumers to receive items in sustainable packaging, they suffocate their products in non-recyclable, single-use plastic, and according to Forbes Magazine, “Amazon recently purchased 20,000 delivery vans for last mile deliveries. All were powered by internal combustion engines; not one electric vehicle in the bunch.”
Ultimately, the best thing to do is to limit your purchases to necessities, avoid impulse shopping and frivolous spending, which almost always leads to waste: this is called refusal! Reuse and refill what you can, next. Then, buy in bulk, buy package free, or in sustainable packaging as a last resort. It’s also important to buy local when possible, this reduces carbon emissions and helps local businesses (businesses that hopefully have environmentally friendly business models) thrive.
So, make your purchases thoughtfully, and know that each purchase you make is like casting a vote that says you approve of this company and what they’re doing to the environment, be it positive or negative.
Support companies that are trying to make a difference!