I recently had the joy of having my first book published, Buy the Change You Want to See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the World a Better Place. It discusses my journey of learning about and subsequently embracing the conscious consumerism movement. I wanted to dispel the misconception that I once held: that thoughtful purchasing was impractical for everyday life. To make the book as pragmatic as possible, I focused on categories that individuals and businesses routinely spend money on, from gifts to chocolate to mass produced apparel. I suggested simple steps for how we can all have a positive impact on people and the planet if we align our purchasing decisions with our values.
Part of my journey towards conscious consumerism was understanding which values incentivized my spending habits, as well as those of others. What I learned is that people are inspired by many things; reducing waste, protecting animals, supporting fair wages, to name a few. I have spent the lion’s share of my career focused on economically empowering women. My time working in places like Afghanistan ignited a passion in me to support as many women-owned and operated businesses as possible. I buy women-grown coffee from a women-owned coffee seller (Kishe Coffee) and frequently purchase clothes from female-owned and-operated brands. I also founded and run a business, TO THE MARKET, that ethically employs women in the manufacturing of fashion goods.
My husband, on the other hand, is a native Kentuckian. He cares deeply about American manufacturing jobs and will actively seek out Made in America (and even Made in Kentucky!) products. We drive a Made in Kentucky Ford Explorer, although he idolizes the Made in Kentucky Corvette, and he famously gives many of his colleagues Kentucky nameplate belts made of the same leather that would be used for the reins of one of Kentucky’s thoroughbreds.
Whether supporting women-owned businesses or Made in America products, we both seek to harness our purchasing power for good–and recognize the power of our wallet. Retail is a massive force in the U.S. economy–a $2.6 trillion industry, two-thirds of our total gross domestic product (GDP). As such, retail purchases, including our book purchases, can be powerful tools for social change–and they often outstrip our ability to engage in other ways.
What We're Reading This WeekGet recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.
As I share in Buy the Change, the average American family earns nearly $75,000 a year and spends nearly $57,000 of that. Half of the amount spent goes toward necessities like housing or healthcare, but the other half is left over for food and non-necessities. That’s almost $30,000 a year that the average American family has discretion over. Even with budget constraints, we are all in a position to decide how we spend many of our dollars.
Shopping locally is one of the easiest and most impactful examples of conscious consumerism, and a valuable way to support your community and build deep relationships. Independent bookstores often generate less than a million dollars a year–making them very small businesses, and that’s before taking into account expenses. They rely on a handful of book-lovers each day to shop with them instead of elsewhere. As the CEO of a growing start-up, I can personally attest to the fact that every purchase really matters.
While it can be tempting to place an order online and see that book arrive on our doorstep two days (or two hours) later, local bookstores–like so many local companies– serve a special role in the community. They often know their customers by name, curate literary collections that reflect the neighborhood’s interests, and host local authors that otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to share their work.
Indie bookstores also frequently go above and beyond to support the interests of their patrons. For example, when I had two book events pop up last minute in my native town of Houston, Texas, I called River Oaks Bookstore to see if they could sell books at the events. My family had frequented this little bookstore for decades, but I knew it was a big ask to have them order 100 books within 10 days and take staffing away from their physical location. Still, River Oaks Bookstore cleared their schedule, rush-shipped 100 books, and hired someone to work the events.
I was delighted that all 100 units sold, generating valuable revenue for River Oaks Bookstore (and nice numbers for my publisher!). But just as importantly, I was happy that my Houston events reflected the values I espouse in the book–that everyday decision-making can be tailored to positively impact others, and actually makes a difference in our own quality of life, and in the quality of life of our community.
Featured image: @Lesia.Valentain via Twenty20