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It’s urgent to reshape our economy towards justice and sustainability

African American Shopper


Right now, talking about shopping can seem trite.

Yet, to address systemic racism, we need a more just economy. An economy slanted towards white ownership plus discriminatory labor practices perpetuate systemic racism.

As discussed in earlier columns (here and here), consumer demand drives 70 percent of the economy. Consumers and citizens have significant influence over the shape of the economy because we — in aggregate — ultimately control almost 70 percent of it.

As sustainability professionals, we need to ensure our companies do more than take a stand against racism and unfair labor practices.

We must urgently guide the economy now because:

  • In the face of worldwide protests against systemic racism and the coronavirus pandemic, many people became more conscious of what they value.

How do we draw clear links between the action of shopping and what we value?

  • So much about shopping is reflexive yet shopping and consumption patterns have been deeply altered during the pandemic. People everywhere have had to learn new behaviors.

In this moment, can we introduce new behaviors to support a more just and sustainable economy? What can we do to reinforce changes and create lasting habits?

  • Governments are making huge capital investments in their economies. Those trillions of dollars will not be readily available again for at least the next 10 years.

Thus, this capital injection will define the shape of the economy for the next decade. Climate scientists say these are the exact 10 years that we have to reduce greenhouse gases.

The climate horizon and COVID horizon are merging. We can’t wait 10 years to advance economic change on both fronts.

If we want a more just economic system, we have two levers, voting and shopping:

  • Vote for local, state and national leaders and policies that support minority-owned businesses and require fair and safe labor standards.
  • Shop at minority-owned businesses and buy products from companies with a verified track record of fair and safe labor standards, just hiring practices and diverse leadership.

Today we have a unique opportunity to reimagine and reshape the 70 percent of the economy that is consumer-driven. By doing so, we can shift the economy towards justice and environmental sustainability.

As sustainability professionals, we need to ensure our companies do more than take a stand against racism and unfair labor practices. We need to help our companies operationalize true equality and fair labor practices throughout all its activities from board and executive representation down to supply-chain partners. Then we can guide consumers and help drive the changes our economy needs.

Join me in the conversation, in the comments below or at [email protected].

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