As companies like Cadbury, Starbucks, The Gap and Zappos make conscious efforts to become more sustainable, fair trade and ethical, we must acknowledge the steps that are being taken to revolutionize the main stream consumer’s mindset. There companies are using their brand power to encourage a positive change in the world and in their industries, whether it is by providing an ethical product, instituting sustainable and fair practices in their internal process, or by promoting a socially-conscious message. While we commend them for the work they have done thus far, an ethical consumer is one that realizes the value in the small-to-midsized business – the grassroots start-ups that are the basis of this movement.
With multinational corporations taking steps to further this movement, one would question why we need the little guy. First of all, it is important to realize the history behind social enterprise. Social enterprise wasn’t the brain child of any one large corporation but the product of many individuals who sought solutions to the social problems in their communities. It was the grassroots movement that has begun to gain momentum around the world that is connecting communities, ideas and individuals who want to make the world a better place. It is these organizations that have encourage the large corporations to think green, clean and ethical. It is these organizations that are recognizing the problems and being innovative in finding their solutions.
Secondly, the goal of ethical consumerism to make ethical buying a part of the mainstream consumer culture. This requires this (currently) niche market to mimic the mainstream consumer industry, not stand isolated from it. It is obvious that small-to-midsized businesses hold a significant position in our market, since they represent near 99.7% of all employer firms in the United States. Therefore, if we want the ethical movement to become main stream, we should be supporting those SMBs that are promoting this movement. Just like the mainstream business environment, they are driving forward the space and impacting individual communities.
The social enterprise movement is not an easy route – it requires the changing of mindsets and a consumer culture shift. This shift won’t be sudden or drastic; instead it will be slow and community-based. It is the small-to-midsized social enterprises that will drive this movement forward and turn individual communities into ethical consumers. So while the big businesses are making amazing improvements to their practices in products in order to be sustainable and ethical, small to mid-sized social ventures across the country are creating a movement to change lives.