Posted on February 6, 2009
Imagine voting everyday. Terrible thought isn't it? Well I hate to break it to you, but that is exactly what we are doing, except for maybe those lazy Sundays where even rolling out of bed seems like an insurmountable challenge. But before I start thinking about the weekend, I have to finish this article as it's something I've discussed a bunch lately but never put the pen to the page on, er, keyboard to the (web)page. We vote every single day. It's like a federal election every 24 hours, except with higher turnout. Allow me to explain...
Every day, we vote with our dollars. Everything we buy (or don't buy), is a statement. Sometimes we make strong statements with our purchases, say, picking fair trade chocolate instead of the regular stuff. Other times, it's less inspiring, say choosing a 42" tv over a 40". But either way, a vote is being made. You just told Nestlé to stuff it, and you just told Toshiba that bigger really is better. And guess what? Toshiba and Nestlé are listening to you, they're counting the ballots and seeing if the people elected them to another term of profitability.
Okay, so maybe picking Special K Vanilla Almond above Red Berry isn't the most noble statement to make. Not all of our decisions can be inspiring.
But how much power do we really have? We've all heard that mumbo jumbo about how something like the wealthiest 5% of Americans earn 35% of the wealth (which is certainly a much smaller number in Canada thankfully). That sounds pretty bad, but if you look at it glass half full instead of half empty, that means 95% of us earn 65% the wealth. Okay, I won't lie, that still sounds pretty awful, but 65% is the majority of the wealth, and in other words, the majority of the votes. With that 65% majority, we effectively have all the power, since we can choose who we'd like the wealthiest 5% of the population to be depending on what we buy.
So what kind of choices are we making? Well, I might not be a certified market analyst, but fortunately I don't have to be to see a clear trend in the choices we make. The largest trend of our buying, or voting (yes I'll beat that metaphor to the death!), is that we like things that are CHEAP! Now, I can't blame us for wanting things cheap. Of course we want things cheap, it can be tough to save money. The problem is we haven't really been saving (though that should change now that the bubble has popped and a recession has started, but that's a whole other topic right there). Typically, we use the money we save to buy more things. More cheap things. And all is well, right?
Homer: Aw, twenty dollars! I wanted a peanut!
Homer's Brain: Twenty dollars can buy many peanuts!
Homer: Explain how!
Homer's Brain: Money can be exchanged for goods and services.
All is not well. The bad thing about choosing products based solely on their price is that we neglect the other costs of the product. Environmental costs of producing and shipping the product aren't passed to you directly, but passed on to everyone through the destruction of our planet. Environment and economy aren't mutually exclusive, they're actually two sides of the same coin, and governments are beginning to wake up to the fact that environmental costs now will create real and massive economic costs later. While we should pressure our governments whenever we can for appropriate environmental regulation on business, instead of waiting to vote on the issue once every few years in elections, we can vote every week in grocery stores and in shopping malls.
Uh oh, it's another election day: B.C. or New Zealand gala apples? As much as I love New Zealand, I can't say I'm crazy on eating produce that has more frequent flyer miles than I do.
Buying responsibly makes a difference. Big corporations may appear to be faceless giants with little regard for the environment, but the fact is, if we keep buying products based solely on their price tag, we are voting in favour of their environmental negligence and driving their business plan. One purchase, just like one vote, will probably never change an outcome, but together, buying responsibly will make a difference. At the very least you can be proud of who you're voting for. Even if it is Vanilla Almond over Red Berry.