Adventures in Buycotting

March 5, 2010

Buycott is a relatively new term to me.  And I like the idea.  A boycott, as you well know, is the refusal to buy products from or support a company or business.  This can be for many reasons; most famously, individuals during the Civil Rights movement boycotted establishments that refused to serve blacks.  A buycott, on the other hand, is the act of choosing to buy products from or support a company.  So, imagine that an ice cream parlor during segregation hung a sign that read “We will serve any individual who desires a cold, creamy treat, regardless of race.”  I would visit that business.  And that would be a buycott.
We are all very good at voicing our displeasure to companies that let us down–I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem with that.  Have you ever seen the kitten poster (yes, my sister and I had kitten posters, because kittens are cute) that contains a picture of a, wait for it, kitten that has destroyed a ball of yarn and is all tangled up?  The bubble extending from the kitten’s little head reads “When I do something right, nobody remembers, but when I do something wrong, nobody ever forgets.”  Even if you’ve never seen the poster, you’ve probably heard similar ideas.  Well, this is what we often do with companies.  I avoid Wal-Mart, I avoid Smithfield, I avoid Monsanto.  And say that I send those companies messages detailing my complaints.  Or say I just avoid purchasing their products.  Either way, that’s the essence of a boycott.  Now, think about how positive a change it could have if I buycott companies that share my values.
An easy way to buycott a company like Patagonia is to purchase their products.  This supports their bottom line, and it sends a subtle message saying, “I support you as a company.”  But there is another way: what if I actually send a company a message?  Ultimately, they want our money, so I’m sure Patagonia would prefer that you buy their products, but while they do feel your support, they don’t know whether you’re buying that fleece because you like it or because you support them as a company and you like it.  So what if you send them a message with your purchase detailing why you chose to support them?
I’ve had the opportunity to buycott recently, and I’m going to share, because I want to show how easy it is.  First, I sent an e-mail to Wal-Mart.  No, I didn’t purchase their products, because while their ridiculously low prices are tempting, I choose to visit Walmart seldomly.  Walmart has made some strides toward sustainability, though, and I think, maybe because of countless discrimination suits, they are beginning to see the value in treating their workers fairly.  In Kansas City, there aren’t a whole lot of places where we can recycle plastic shopping bags, but Wal-Mart is one of those places.  I e-mailed them a thank you for that service.  There response was generic and not specifically related to the topic of plastic bag recycling, but I suppose they heard my message.
Another recent buycott: Court and I shop at the Wild Foods/Whole Oats on Main (see what I did there), and when we want mushrooms we choose between shiitakes and baby bellas, which are a cross between portabella and white button mushrooms.  We usually use shiitake for their superior flavor and nutrition, but occasionally the others work better for a recipe.  But, and this is a pretty big but, they are packaged in styrofoam.  So we never buy them.  Well, recently, Monterey Mushrooms switched to compostable containers.  I wish that I could say that their change was due to a message I sent them, but that’s not the case.  After the fact, though, I did purchase the mushrooms, and I sent them a message praising their switch.  They get my money, and they get my message.
Finally, I noticed that J. Crew uses paper from sustainably-grown forests for their magazines–look for the FSC logo.  I like J. Crew’s clothes, but I try to avoid buying new as often as possible, especially with clothes.  I still enjoy looking through their magazine and occasionally stopping in the store.  But, say I do purchase something from them; I appreciate that they have taken at least this step, and maybe my message will encourage them to take additional steps.  And if they take additional steps (say, show a commitment to fair working conditions for overseas laborers or use organic materials) maybe I will be tempted to buy new.  Until then, I will give them some positive press on this here blog.  “Hey J. Crew, about 8 people just found out that you use paper from sustainable forests for your magazine!”
These are my experiences so far.  I am a new convert, but I hope to encourage more companies to make changes toward sustainability through my words and my dollars.
P.S. The author’s of the Better World Handbook have given me a new perspective on spending–every dollar I spend is a vote.  We may get frustrated with our political system, because it often feels like our votes mean very little, but with our money, we vote nearly every day.  Let’s make sure our financial decisions represent our values.

One Response to “Adventures in Buycotting”

  1. Tomika said

    So, not to sound totally cheesy but…this seriously makes my heart so happy. Kudos to you for taking the time to compliment and not only complain. We all complain and fight against things that we disagree with (this is not bad, it’s great really) but seldom do we just say thank you to people and orgs that do the right thing. Our world, country, city, community can stand to be a little more positive these days.

    You’ve inspired me 🙂

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