Socially Responsible Gift Shopping

This article was published by Newsletter, issue #25, .

To say that holiday shopping is a critical component of the American economy, would be an understatement. In the United States alone, countless retail businesses would be literally out of business, were it not for their revenues generated during the months of November and December, when Americans begin searching for gifts to give on Christmas and other holidays during the winter season. The bulk of these revenues are generated between late November and late December, particularly from the Christmas shopping that begins right after Thanksgiving — a day known as "Black Friday" because the holiday spending that begins on that day, pulls many of those businesses out of the red.

The extent of the spending within the United States is unimaginably huge, especially when considered on an annual basis. Exact statistics are difficult to find, but according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce), by mid-2006, gross domestic purchases by Americans composed approximately 70% of the gross domestic product, which for 2006 will be over $13 trillion. Thus, annual American spending is likely more than $9 trillion. Those are a lot of purchases, and thus a lot of decisions. Admittedly, a major portion of those payments are made on nondiscretionary items, such as mortgages, rental costs, and medical insurance premiums. But that still leaves an inconceivably large number of dollars spent just within the United States, to say nothing of consumer decisions made worldwide.

The lone consumer might be tempted to consider each purchase to be insignificant when dwarfed by those trillions of dollars spent in aggregate — especially for small purchases, such as stocking stuffers. Shopper might believe that their purchases, whether as gifts for others or treats for themselves, are but drops of water in an enormous bucket, and thus there is no point in worrying about their social and environmental consequences. They might decide that their contributions to the massive global marketplace, could have no effect upon the big picture. Yet they fail to realize that the large body of water is nothing but a collection of individual drops, each contributed singly or among others, by other individuals and organizations — all of them responsible for their choices.

Too many people often assume that making a purchase is but the beginning and the end of the whole process (aside from settling up with their credit card company). The retailer has the consumer's money, and the consumer has the product. Actually, that is just a single link in a long chain of decisions, stretching back into the past as well as forward into the future. Prior to any purchase, decisions and investments were made in product design, manufacturing, and marketing — including what wages to pay the workers, and whether the product's constituent materials are recycled, and whether the final product is itself recyclable.

On the other side of the event, your purchase, combined with those of all other consumers, has the strongest influence upon the decisions of the manufacturer, the vendor, and all the other organizations in the pipeline, as to what items they will create and offer in the future. In fact, when you decide where to direct your spending dollars, your financial drop of water spreads in waves throughout the economy, rippling beyond the confines of the vendor you chose, and even the country in which they do business, as they in turn make their decisions as to how to meet the increased demand for that product — a demand that you made upon the world's economy.

So when you are choosing the gifts that you would like to give to others — and throughout the year when you buy for yourself and your family — do not underestimate the tremendous impact that your gift choices make upon the businesses you patronize, the community in which you live (both in and outside of cyberspace), and the world as a whole. When you drop some cash this coming holiday season, make sure that drop lands in the "green gift" part of the pond, and sends its ripples out in the right directions.

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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