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With the end of Amazon’s charity donation program, AmazonSmile, some people feel worse about shopping on Amazon and are looking for ways to shop more ethically.
Through AmazonSmile, which is ending by Feb. 20, Amazon donates 0.5% of eligible purchases to a charity of the shopper’s choice. The program has donated over $449 million globally, but the average donation per charity last year was around just $230, according to Amazon.
Still, some organizations — especially small ones — say the money made a huge difference to them. Many shoppers who use AmazonSmile have expressed their dismay on social media and shared the impact the program has had on the charities they support, with some threatening to stop shopping on Amazon and urging others to cancel their Prime subscriptions.
If you’ve found yourself wondering how to shop more ethically, there are several principles you can follow, says David Weitzner, assistant professor of management at York University in Toronto.
What constitutes ethical shopping?
“The answers for individuals depend on their politics and other factors,” Weitzner says, but if you accurately understand the company’s business model and principles “and they align with your own values, I would consider that ethical consuming.”
First and foremost, make sure you understand and agree with how the company makes its money — from how they treat their employees and source their goods to how their business model affects the environment.
Beyond that, Weitzner says to prioritize the company’s reputation over its ranking on lists of top ethical companies — some ranking lists require companies to pay to be on them. Then, look at what the company is doing now — not what it’s promising to do in the future. Lastly, shop at companies that value human connection over efficiency.
Beyond doing our own research as shoppers, we should trust our instincts, Weitzner says. If you go to a store regularly and “your gut tells you that this is an ethical place to shop,” that’s a good sign, he says.
Armed with those principles, here are some ideas of where you can shop next. This is not a comprehensive list but rather resources for customers seeking Amazon alternatives.
Where to start
Ethical Consumer is an organization that researches the ethical and environmental records of companies, from energy to fashion to food. Its guides will tell you not only specific brands’ track records but also what to look for and what to avoid when shopping, making it easier to make informed decisions even if you haven’t researched a specific brand before encountering it in the store.
If your main concern is charitable giving rather than shopping, CharityWatch is a nonprofit watchdog that provides information about charities’ efficiency, accountability, governance and fundraising. If you decide to cancel your Amazon Prime subscription because of the end of AmazonSmile, it can help you decide where to put that extra cash.
Good on You dubs itself the “world’s leading source for fashion brand ratings,” and its site scores fashion brands based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to help consumers understand whether fashion brands are as environmentally friendly as they claim. Scores incorporate factors such as greenhouse gas emissions, water use and worker safety and wages.
However, buying clothes second hand — and swapping or reselling items you don’t need or want anymore — is the best way to avoid the ethical and environmental costs of the fashion industry. Check out ThredUp, Poshmark, Depop and other reselling and thrifting stores and sites.
Food waste is incredibly harmful to the environment — and your wallet.
To shop more sustainably, check out Imperfect Foods, which delivers groceries that are irregular in size or shape, have cosmetic imperfections or are simply surplus items that would otherwise go to waste.
You could also download Too Good To Go, an app that allows users to buy surplus food from grocery stores and restaurants at a discounted price. The contents of the bag you get are a surprise, based on what’s left as the business is closing, but it’s a great way to prevent food waste and try something new in an inexpensive way.
If you love buying books and want to find companies that treat their workers well and are sustainable, you can find vendors on Ethical Revolution’s Amazon Alternatives website, which has a bookseller search tool.
Buying used books can keep waste out of landfills, and buying from independent, local shops helps ensure that authors are paid fairly. If you want to find an independent bookstore near you, you can search on IndieBound.
Thriftbooks is an independent online bookstore that offers used books whose quality is accurately rated and partners with nonprofits to provide literacy programs, though its products appear on Amazon and other vendors. Better World Books sells both new and used books and supports literacy projects.