“Don’t spend that dollar” Richard McLellan, Director Footprint

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Making Better Choices

Richard McLellan, Director Footprint

“Every dollar you spend or don’t spend … is a vote you cast for the world you want”.

I read this phrase on a poster someone posted recently on twitter, and it made me stop and think how profoundly simple it can be for everyone to have some control over the kind of world we want and the kind of future we want for our children and grandchildren.

I’ve read some criticism of this “one-liner” as being too simplistic, but I don’t think anyone would suggest that this is the only affirmative action that individuals can take. Of course, there are lots of things that we can do (and by “we” I’m predominantly talking about the higher-income peoples of the world who all too frequently spend their dollars – or krones, rupees, pesos or whatever – without thinking that they’re “casting a vote”, i.e., those in the west with expendable income, the luxury of having a choice and a desire to consume.

In the current edition of the Living Planet Report (, we encouraged the world’s consumers (the “future-voters”, or “future-eaters” as we’ve been described by some) to “make better choices” – including to “consume more wisely”. Encouraging people to make “Better Choices for a Living Planet” essentially boils down to individuals taking responsibility for the decisions that they make, including how they spend their hard-earned incomes.

In the LPR we summarized the options for “making better choices” into an easy-to-read, easy-to-follow diagram which we called a “One Planet Perspective”. This diagram (see below) detailed five basic, interdependent areas in which WWF thinks governments, businesses, communities and individuals (consumers) can make better choices – that will help ensure we have a healthy planet, with healthy ecosystems, providing food, water and energy security for humanity in the millennia ahead.

While the choices we make in all of these dimensions are important, for the average person in the street, the choices we make about consumption (how we “direct our personal financial flows” can be profound. For example, if everyone “makes a better choice” to stop buying shark fin products, the slaughter of millions of sharks will be averted.

As the “every dollar” quote intimated, every time we make a purchase, every time we consume, we cast a vote: A vote for whether we support the way in which that product was made (sustainably or not); a vote for the equity benefits its production gave to the primary producers who produced it; for the amount of packaging and potential waste it has or will generate (and whether parts of it will eventually finish-up in landfill or bobbing around in the ocean); a vote for the type of energy that was used to make it; a vote for supporting local producers or others far away; a vote for renewable or finite energy use; for quality or quantity; and for so much more.

Don’t spend that dollar

We can also choose to buy better – such as MSC-certified fish when we’re looking for fish in the markets, or other products accredited by credible certification schemes. We can also choose to buy less … or even “not to buy” – as the founder of Patagonia Yves Chouinard has been urging consumers who prefer his products. We really do have lots of options.

I mention Patagonia because it recently ran an advertising campaign with its own attention-grabbing one-liner: “Don’t buy this jacket” the headline screamed. That also made me stop and think.

Ultimately, perhaps the best choice we can make with our dollar is not to spend it, i.e., to consume less and to put that “choosing time” into making the other four elements of the “One Planet Perspective” come to fruition: by protecting nature; or by advocating for more equitable resource governance; or for changes to the financial systems and regulations that will really benefit the planet and the people who dwell here – now and in the future. Greening our economies and generating a sustainable future goes well beyond just wise choices and ethical consumption … it requires far more fundamental systemic change. Everyone can be a part of that too.

As we wrote in the Living Planet Report: “We all face uncomfortable choices and trade-offs, but only by taking brave, informed decisions can healthy, sustainable and equitable human societies be ensured, now and into the future.”

It’s worth stopping, and thinking about.

You can follow Richard on Twitter (@RichardMcLellan)

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