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Right now we are all feeling the squeeze of global supply chain constraints and uncertainty. However, we also know that through purchasing awareness and ethical consumption, we can be less affected by these external forces (and more prepared to deal with them) while also circulating resources in a way that serves all of us better in the long term. 

But first, what exactly is ethical consumption? 

This came up for me and my partner recently as we’ve been settling into a new apartment. We are grateful to upgrade from a one to two bedroom, but that meant we needed some “new to us” furniture. When we first moved in, I was guilty of giving into a convenience mindset in my moving fatigue. There was a lot ahead of us, along with maintaining work and moving my art studio simultaneously. So what did I do? I went to IKEA.

Fall 2021 IKEA has turned into a weird metaphor for the current state of things. Everything I touched felt flimsy and cheap (I know I know, I was desperate!). There were a few nice (pricier) pieces that called to me, but those and half the store seemed to be out of stock. I ended up walking out with a shower curtain and some curtain rods, proud of myself for sticking to my instincts, knowing the wait for something better was worth it. 

A friend suggested Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles, an economic development project of the African People’s Education and Defense Fund here in Oakland. My partner and I went in a little skeptical after a few empty handed Salvation Army and Goodwill trips, but here we were instantly greeted by a friendly salesperson who asked what we needed. The first thing she did was show us a gorgeous dining room table for $85! We ended up with five high quality secondhand pieces that day, all for under $500, delivered an hour later. My mind was seriously blown. Not only was this an organization we wanted to support financially, it was literally the most affordable, best quality, best service option we found and all secondhand. I don’t think a single IKEA store employee spoke to me in my two hours there (which says more about the skeleton crew IKEA’s running with than the quality of the team). When all was said and done the seven “new to us” pieces of furniture we acquired for our new place consisted of one being actually brand new, one being found on the street, and five sourced from this local organization.

I know it is unrealistic for most to set goals like zero waste and no new purchasing. If you can do that, kudos, but for most of us that is an unattainable goal. However, we must step back to understand where shifts are possible and this goes beyond a no consumption approach.

… we must step back to understand where shifts are possible
and this goes beyond a no consumption approach.

Looking at the continuous evolution of food systems can help to understand ethical consumption approaches more clearly (though there are still murky waters there, as well). The US spent decades growing our addictions and dependence on processed foods, conflating our diets with additive-laden food products. In recent years many have taken a step back to understand that this is not healthy nor is it sustainable. In this space one also sees extreme shifts like the emergence of “freegans.” Again, no hate towards anyone trying to reduce their footprint, but we know that dumpster diving and foraging is not in the cards for most of us; instead, many of us are experimenting and improving our diets in ways that are personal and make sense to our lives. Some folks are removing all processed foods from their diets, others are cooking more at home, some are shopping for imperfect produce, many are buying directly from farmers, and we’re even seeing food donation sites prioritizing fresh and nutritious foods. 

Ethical consumption in other areas of our lives can be very similar. Instead of never purchasing a new item again, can you narrow it down to items that absolutely must be purchased new? If you are purchasing new, can you source those from a sustainable business? Better yet, is there a closed loop Black and/or women owned local business who produces the product? And yes, these will be worth those couple extra dollars. 

Let’s pause and examine that. The price gap between mass produced big box products and small businesses is something that weighs on me. I also want to say that this is being said in no way to shame these affordable products when money’s tight, but there’s obviously a long-term benefit to spending a few extra dollars upfront for a better made local product.

We need to go beyond just switching to a “buy local” mindset. Though buying local is of course what and where Prospera Partners comes from, as we continue to make ethics, values, and equity the center of our work and education, buying local just becomes a natural focus. Let’s think about a complete shift in consciousness about the items we consume or purchase. Ask about sourcing, and what ethical practices went into the production, if any. Consumers hold the power and the more we ask the questions, the more we make the change.

Photo credit: pure julia on Unsplash

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