Shopping for Good

Shopping for GoodAuthor of Shopping for Good, Dara O’Rourke shot to notoriety in the 1990s when he broke the story about Nike’s sweatshops. Since then, O’Rourke has been carving himself a career in promoting sustainable and ethical consumerism through his role as co-founder and Chief Sustainability Officer at (the work of which features in this book) and as Associate Professor of Environmental and Labor Policy at the University of California.

Made of three parts, ‘Shopping for Good’, ‘Forum’ and ‘Individuals Matter’, the book shuns the traditional narrative thread and, instead, takes the form of a debate. In ‘Shopping for Good’, O’Rourke outlines his view on ethical consumerism and how society, rather than supply chains, should promote a more sustainable marketplace, before eight contributors, from professors to venture capitalists, react to his thesis in the ‘Forum’ section.

Written before EPEAT gave its contentious seal of approval to Apple’s new MacBook Pro, 'Shopping for Good' kicks off remarkably on trend, chastising Apple for its poor environmental and health record.

O’Rourke shows that he is on the button when it comes to ethical consumerism, and in this small book (less than 100 pages long), he explores what businesses and governments can do to help promote a more conscientious and environmentally-aware marketplace.

With a rather unflattering, but accurate, critique of society (people are reputedly more likely to buy ethical or environmentally-friendly products when they are on public display, such as the Toyota Prius), 'Shopping for Good' demonstrates that though being green may still be seen as a fashionable lifestyle choice, society as a whole could do more, if only the right information is made available to us.

According to O’Rourke, ‘people are more likely to buy ethical products if they believe their choices have an impact’ and he outlines how businesses should be making information available on their products’ ethical markers, such as their carbon footprint, animal testing stance, labour welfare standards, et cetera, to encourage this sustainably-minded behaviour. Unsurprisingly perhaps,, which categorises products on an ethical rate from 1-10, is listed as a best practice example of this.

In the ‘Forum’ section, eight ‘respondents’ – Juliet Schor, Richard Locke, Scott Nova, Lisa Ann Richey, Margaret Levi, Andrew Szasz, Scott Hartley, and Auret van Herdeen – consider O’Rourke’s proposal that consumers can ‘vote with their wallets’ and change regulation, and outline their views on the strength of consumer power in shifting market trends. From agreeing with O’Rourke’s ideology to warning against the ‘empty rhetoric’ of businesses’ greenwash (Scott Nova), the 'Forum' section acts as a balance to O’Rourke’s laudable, if somewhat idealistic, notions.

Rounding off, O’Rourke writes in ‘Individuals Matter’ that ‘despite a range of concerns, a consensus emerges among us that consumers can – and must – play some role in advancing more sustainable and equitable production’. The challenge, he adds, is designing the tools and support needed to see individual consumers’ choices turned into a ‘force to advance more sustainable and equitable economies’.