Conscious Consumerism: Why Every Made In USA Purchase You Make Matters

People shop online on Amazon, get essentials from Target or Walmart, and generally buy goods that are made overseas without considering the difference it would make if they shopped local and American Made instead. Consider this, when someone spends $100 at a local small business, $67 is put back into our local economy. But if that same $100 is spent at a big box store or national retailer, only $14 makes it back to our local economy. 

Going to your local store to buy something that you could have shipped from Amazon, choosing an independent brand, and shopping American-made creates economic opportunity and is often the more sustainable option. Products that are made in America may cost more, but they create jobs, support local businesses, and typically use less shipping resources. You invest in your local community and economy when you decide to shop local and American-made. On average, more than one-third (34 percent) of the population is willing to pay more for sustainable products or services and would accept a 25 percent premium. 

The Psychology of Shopping

Shopping can typically be divided into two main categories: needs and wants. When shopping for essentials, like groceries or replacing something broken like an appliance, the decision could easily be as simple as price. If shopping for a window cleaner, you may choose whatever is on sale at Target. Wants are an immediate purchase, so you may spend extra time deciding between brands and finding the right style before pulling the trigger. 

While buying something like paper towels or a candle may seem like an extremely small purchase with a low impact, it couldn't be farther from the truth — every purchase matters. You can choose to shop from value-oriented brands and give back, whether it's using fair trade and environmentally friendly ingredients, donating to charity, or paying livable wages to their employees. 

Why Do Sustainable Goods Cost More? 

Fair Labor 

Why does one plain t-shirt that's made in China only cost 5$ when a similar shirt made in the United States costs $35 or more? One of the reasons is labor costs. California's minimum wage is $14 per hour, while China's is 25.3 Yuan which is less than $4 per hour. Meanwhile, countries like Vietnam have even lower manufacturing costs. 

Who Made Your Clothes?

Most child laborers are found in Asia and the Pacific, but one in five children are in child labor in some sub-Saharan African countries. Commonly called "sweatshops" due to the poor working conditions, factories in these impoverished areas that don't pay living wages do not help workers and their families escape poverty. They may work over 40 hours a week and still cannot afford basic needs like food and shelter. A study showed that doubling the salary of sweatshop workers would only increase the consumer cost of an item by 1.8 percent, while consumers would be willing to pay 15 percent more to know a product did not come from a sweatshop.

Raw Materials

In the 1970s, single-use plastic took off in manufacturing as a cheaper, more durable, and lighter-weight alternative to metal, glass, and plastic. Around 300 million tons of single-use plastics are produced each year from petroleum (a fossil fuel), and 91 percent of all plastic isn't recycled. These plastics get put in landfills or thrown onto the ground, making their way into the waterways and eventually into the ocean. Today, the sea is full of harmful microplastics and marine debris. Products that use more sustainable raw materials will cost more than ones that use plastic. A single Dasani water costs on average $1.99, while a glass Voss single water costs around $3.00. A metal reusable water bottle can cost anywhere from $10 to $35, but you can fill the water up at home or from a fountain when you're out for free. 

Quantity vs. Quality

Around the time that single-use plastics became popular, consumerism shifted from quantity to quality: throwaway culture. Instead of purchasing a higher quality good at a premium price, consumers began sacrificing craftsmanship for price and preferred buying lower-priced goods. Businesses (outside of the luxury goods industry) had a new goal: how can I produce the maximum amount of product at the lowest price. The solution is putting ethics aside and using the cheapest labor possible with raw materials that have a higher environmental impact. Why pay more for something produced locally in the US when you can get it cheaper from a company that manufactures in China?

Conscious Consumerism

As consumers become more conscious, we shift back towards quality and making impactful purchases. While these goods cost more, they're often made of higher quality materials and last longer when you take care of them. Instead of using a free or $0.10 single-use plastic bag, many people choose to buy a reusable canvas tote for $3 and bring it with them to the grocery store and bring their favorite high-quality reusable travel mug to the coffee shop that they can use for years rather than just a few times before it breaks. 

Shopping Local

If every U.S. family spent just $10 a month at a local business, Over $9.3 billion would be directly returned to our economy. When you shop locally, you support your community. Buying from a small brand helps them expand and hire more employees who live in your town and eat at local restaurants. Businesses with fewer than 500 employees account for 99.7% of all U.S. employers. The money you spend on a local good goes directly back into where you live. Local goods are also better for the environment because they don't need to be shipped overseas and require less packaging. 

Buying American Made

Buying products made in the U.S. supports the country you live in, allowing the businesses to expand and hire more employees. Research estimates that every new job in auto manufacturing supports nine other jobs, from restaurant workers to parts makers. When you buy American, you're putting money back into America instead of a foreign country. The United States also has higher and better-enforced labor standards than most countries where goods are manufactured, like China and Vietnam, which have higher rates of child labor, trafficking, slavery, and unsafe working conditions. In a Consumer Reports survey, 61 percent of participants said that U.S. clothing and shoes were of better quality than foreign goods. 

Easy Ways to Be a More Conscious Consumer:

  • Take care of what you have - Buy higher quality goods and take care of them rather than cheaper goods that need frequent replacing 
  • Support creators - Bring back craftsmanship by shopping independent sellers that make a living doing what they love 
  • Buy in bulk to reduce single-use plastic
  • Bring reusables with you (cutlery, containers, bags, water bottles) 
  • Read labels and find out where your goods are made and sourced
  • Thrift - Before you buy something new, try to see if you can find it at a thrift store
  • Repurpose and upcycle - If you're going to throw something away, donate or see if you can use it for another purpose
  • Shop B Certification Corps - B Corps are dedicated to environmental and social responsibility and have strict standards to adhere to
  • Repair before replacing
  • Minimalist Mindset - focus on having fewer things that you love rather than lots of things you just like 

Where do you want your money to go? You can support local businesses, buy American-made products, and help boost the US economy with every purchase. Instead of choosing the cheapest option, read the labels to see where a product was made and if it's sustainable. A locally produced product typically requires fewer resources and is better for the environment than one made in a foreign country. Support your local creators, artisans, and small businesses that are the backbone of the US economy. As a consumer, you have the power to create change.