Recently I was reminded of an article by activist and author George Monbiot from a year ago. He argued that “green consumerism” is pointless when trying to affect environmental and social change but that political participation is the most effective course of action.
If [green consumerism] merely swapped the damaging goods we buy for less damaging ones, I would champion it. But two parallel markets are developing: one for unethical products and one for ethical products, and the expansion of the second does little to hinder the growth of the first… It is easy to picture a situation in which the whole world religiously buys green products, and its carbon emissions continue to soar.
I agree that political action is a necessary to drag industries and outdated ideas into the present, but we can’t entirely discount consumer action. Effectively and permanently distributing consumer buying power through organized group purchasing of ethical products based on an information system of corporate social responsibility and Leed-like ratings, consumers can affect the impact they seek.
There are a number of tools consumers can use now to inform their purchasing decisions and coordinate purchasing –
eSwarm brings groups buyers and sellers together to lower the cost of goods and services. The idea is that the larger the group purchasing a particular good, the more attractive it will be to the seller to lower the cost. The concept is similar to Tuangou, a shopping strategy originating in the People’s Republic of China.
Greener One is developing a LEED-like rating system for consumer products that is crowdsourced by the community. The system will arm consumers with the knowledge needed to aid in “green consumerism” purchasing decisions.
KnowMore.org uses wiki technology to expose corporate abuse and enable shareholders to hold unethical companies more accountable. They also offer a Firefox extension that alerts consumers when they’ve visited a website of an unethical company. Alonovo is a similar service that allows consumers to set values on 40 different criteria that reflects their views. Products are then recommended through Amazon.com.
These mobile applications allow consumers to make informed decisions before purchasing a product through their iPhone or phones on the Google Android mobile platform. Consumers use their camera phones to read bar codes and EZcodes and are instantly linked to data relevant to the product.
The potential these technologies have when used together is profound and factoring in the proliferation of mobile technology and seamless social network integration for knowledge sharing and coordination, change isn’t a possibility, it’s an inevitability.