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Next Avenue

March 27, 2019, 5:02 a.m. EDT

Harness the power of your dollars to make the world a better place

Advice from the author of ‘Buy the Change You Want to See’

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By Kerry Hannon


AFP/Getty Images
Alex Stchekine assembles a bike at the Shinola store in Detroit. Shinola is an American company trying to make its mark by reinventing an iconic brand and selling U.S.-made products.

This article is reprinted by permission from NextAvenue.org .

Making the planet better is a heartfelt goal for most of us. But it’s difficult to know how one person can do that and truly make a difference. Jane Mosbacher Morris has some ideas.

In her practical new book, “ Buy the Change You Want to See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the World a Better Place ,” Mosbacher Morris — along with co-writer Wendy Paris — explores how consumers can use their purchasing power to do good. As she told me in an interview, “The energy behind impacting others on the planet is unprecedented. I wanted to remind people that regardless of your budget, you can be a part of driving that movement.”

After I finished reading the book, I immediately began to review some of my daily expenditures with a new lens, starting with my morning coffee. You’ll see why shortly.

Here are highlights from my conversation with Mosbacher Morris, founder of  To the Market , a company that connects ethical product suppliers with retailers, corporations and consumers:

Next Avenue: What are the best ways to get started spending our money to do good in the world?

Jane Mosbacher Morris:  Becoming a conscious consumer in some ways is like becoming a healthy eater. What I mean by that, is that making changes that are sustainable takes a more effective and lasting approach than trying to do the equivalent of a highly restrictive diet that you might not be able to keep up and sustain.

What I recommend, like becoming a healthy eater, is to do it by not giving it all up at once.

Start by picking one category that you care about and spend money on. That could be groceries. That could be your morning cup of coffee, or gifts. By narrowing down to one category to start, changing your shopping habit becomes attainable and realistic.

Then, research that category. Let’s say you pick clothing as your category. Act like Sherlock Holmes and begin researching companies that are operating in a way you feel you could be proud of.

You could say ‘I’m somebody who really cares about American jobs, and I want to see more of jobs from manufacturing come back, so I am going to look at brands made in the U.S.A.’

It could be that you feel really strongly about environmentally-friendly companies and want to start looking for products using organic cotton or recycled material or interesting new materials like Tencel, a rayon-like fabric made from the pulp of eucalyptus trees. You can find Tencel in pants, shirts, dresses, and more at The Gap. /zigman2/quotes/206554267/composite GPS -1.02%  

If you tend to send cards, I suggest you buy cards made from 100% post-consumer waste paper. Or choose thank-you cards made from Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood that comes from a responsibly managed forest and can be recycled.

For gifts, the sock company, The Conscious Step, sells organic cotton socks that support different causes. The men’s tidal wave pattern includes a donation to the nonprofit  Oceana , which protects oceans.

And there are big companies focusing on zero waste like Hilton /zigman2/quotes/202780307/composite HLT +1.50%  , Subaru /zigman2/quotes/200526066/delayed FUJHY +0.40%   and Target. /zigman2/quotes/207799045/composite TGT +0.81%  

How is this more empowering than writing a check to an organization?

It is a different way of going about it. In some respect, it’s a much bigger way of going about it because the amount of money that we spend on certain categories sometimes is a lot more than the money we are able to afford to donate.

For example, if I have the ability to donate $500 a year to charity, when I look at the amount of money I am probably spending on coffee, even if I am brewing it at home, it can easily come to at least $1,000 a year on coffee products.

Look at the amount you’re spending on certain categories each year, and you’ll find it tends to outstrip the amount you can donate. You should still donate, too.

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