Ethical Consumer Guide: Get Woke, Go Broke?

Are people ready to make the investment it takes to become ethical consumers? Our survey reveals all. Discover how you can shop ethically without going broke, and see our list of top ethical companies to shop with.
Will woke make you broke? | Wealthify
Reading time: 10 mins

Are today’s consumers looking to put their money where their values are? We ran a survey on conscious consumerism to find out.

The survey revealed that over three-quarters of UK adults believe it’s important to support ethical brands and sustainable companies in their day-to-day life. But over half admit they are held back from shopping ethically because it’s too expensive.

In our guide, we look at whether going woke actually does come at a cost and how the ‘woke generation’ is leading the change in ethical issues in business — for the better.

Keep reading as we shine the spotlight on the most ethical companies to invest in, how to avoid greenwashing, and share our everyday tips on how to shop ethically on a budget. 

 

Let’s suss out what ‘get woke, go broke’ actually means

A relatively new word to the English language, woke was added to the Oxford English dictionary in 2017. The definition of woke is ‘to be aware of, and actively attentive to, important facts and issues (especially racial and social justice)’1. More casually, the meaning of woke can also be used to describe someone who is well-informed and cares about societal and ethical impacts.

But, being called woke can often have negative connotations, especially for brands and businesses. It can sometimes be perceived as doing it for reputation purposes and not out of conviction. So why is this? 

Bestselling author John Ringo coined the phrase ‘get woke, go broke’2. It describes when companies use politically correct actions as part of their strategy, resulting in a massive loss of income. The main problem being that consumers don’t believe brands are doing it for a genuine reason.

Our survey backs this, revealing over 70% of UK adults feel brands commit to causes to appear 'woke' or in touch with being more 'green'.

At Wealthify, we like to celebrate the Good Eggs. The ones who have risen in woke culture — not to jump on a trend, but meaning to make a positive impact on the world and listen to what their customers care about.

 

Over half of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands

56% of people from our survey said they’re willing to spend more if a brand is sustainable. So what has led to this change in consumers becoming more ethically aware?

Educational awakenings have undeniably been influential in striking a chord with so many, perfectly exemplified by David Attenborough's 'Blue Planet effect'. It’s said that 88% of people who watched the educational, environmental documentary changed their lifestyle to be more sustainable3

In 2020, Ethical Consumer ran a survey to reveal how the Coronavirus has impacted consumerism during the pandemic4. The report showed that 60% of consumers intend to buy more locally, increasing from only 40% pre-pandemic.

So, with more and more consumers turning to ethical brands, they could make a smart investment choice.

 

Good for the soul investing

The saying goes — put your money where your mouth is — and we’ve got to agree. Wherever you spend your hard-earned money, it should reflect your values.

Being true to your values can sometimes take a bit of work and, honestly, a bit of sacrifice. But at Wealthify, we believe that it’s our job to make sticking to your values easy, and remind you that you don’t need to spend a lot to invest in line with your principles. Find out how you can start ethically and socially responsible investing with just £1.

 

What are the benefits of socially responsible investing?

The main benefits of socially responsible investing are:

  1. You can align your personal values with investment opportunities — so you don’t have to compromise your morals.
  2. Make a profit — people often mistakenly think that by investing ethically, you’re sacrificing potential profit. Find out how ethical investments can offer great returns. Please note that the value of your investments can go up and down and with investing, returns cannot be guaranteed.
  3. If you’re in a fortunate position to spend a little extra cash, ethical investing is a great (and easy) way to positively impact society.

Everyone’s reasons for ethical investment will be different. Our survey revealed that the top three causes people cared about were cruelty-free products, zero waste solutions, and locally sourced ethical materials.

Invest in the organisations that are committed to causes close to your heart. If you need a little help deciding where you want to put your money, we’ve created a range of Ethical Plans which make it easy for you to invest in companies that are committed to what matters to you.

 

Wealthify’s ethical companies to invest in

We like to make it easy for people to do good with their money through ethical investing. That’s why our Ethical Plans use the best-in-class ethical fund providers so you can invest in organisations that match your morals.

Head over to our blog to learn more about the companies we invest in we call them our ‘Good Eggs’ companies.

 

10 ethical companies leading by example  

Our survey revealed that a quarter of people said they don't know where to start looking for ethical brands. So we've pulled together a list of established brands that have been flying the ethical and sustainable flags for many years.

Company Committed Causes What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Endura

Endura create ethically sourced performance-enhancing cycling apparel.

United Kingdom flag Livingston

Committed Causes

  • Carbon Footprint
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Societal Impact
  • Recycling
  • Living Wage Employer& Employee Rights
  • Diversity in Workplace

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Endura launched its One Million Trees Initiative at the start of 2020, with a commitment of planting one million trees annually for the next ten years to work towards eliminating Endura's carbon footprint.

Alpkit

Alpkit offers premium multi-activity outdoor equipment for enthusiasts.

United Kingdom flag Hathersage

Committed Causes

  • Animal Welfare
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Recycling
  • Living Wage Employer& Employee Rights
  • Societal Impact

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Alpkit is a B Corp business meaning they have met the highest verified social and environmental performance standards. The brand also donates 1% of sales and at least 10% of annual profit to support grass roots projects.

Good Energy

Good Energy were the UK's first 100% renewable electricity supplier.

United Kingdom flag Chippenham

Committed Causes

  • Renewable Energy
  • Living Wage Employer& Employee Rights
  • Diversity in Workplace
  • Societal Impact
  • Reputation

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

In 2002, Good Energy bought Delabole Wind Farm to meet customers' demands for 100% renewable energy. Good Energy also owns and operates six solar power farms and over 1,600 independent renewable generators.

Ecotricity

Ecotricity provides green energy mainly generated from wind power.

United Kingdom flag Stroud

Committed Causes

  • Animal Welfare
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Renewable Energy
  • Societal Impact
  • Living Wage Employer& Employee Rights
  • Diversity in Workplace
  • Human Rights

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

All of Ecotricity's electricity is generated at wind and sun parks around Britain with its gas a mix of carbon-neutralised natural gas and sustainable green gas. Ecotricity is the only energy company certified as vegan by the Vegan Society.

Brewdog

Brewdog is a leading craft beers brand in the UK and are carbon negative.

United Kingdom flag Ellon

Committed Causes

  • Recycling
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Human Rights
  • Living Wage

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Brewdog is B Corp business meaning they have met the highest verified social and environmental performance standards. They have purchased 2,050 acres in the Scottish Highlands and aim to plant over one million trees by 2022.

IKEA

IKEA has been the world's largest furniture retailer since 2008.

Sweden flag Älmhult

Committed Causes

  • Animal Welfare
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Diversity in Workplace
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Human Rights
  • Living Wage & Employee Rights
  • Recycling
  • Renewable Energy
  • Reputation
  • Societal Impact

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

In 2020, single-use plastic products were phased out completely from all IKEA stores worldwide. By 2030, Ikea pledges to only use renewable and recycled materials to reduce the total IKEA climate footprint by an average of 70% per product.

M&S

M&S is a leading British retailer in quality food, clothing and homeware.

United Kingdom flag London

Committed Causes

  • Animal Welfare
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Diversity in Workplace
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Human Rights
  • Living Wage & Employee Rights
  • Recycling
  • Renewable Energy
  • Reputation
  • Societal Impact

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

M&S was the world's first major retailer to become carbon neutral. They have reduced their carrier bag usage by 90% to save over four billion bags. Their Shwopped clothing scheme has saved over 33 million items in support of Oxfam charity to end poverty.

Patagonia

Patagonia sell sustainable and durable outdoor clothing but is known for being a ethical bussiness pioneer.

United States of America flag Ventura

Committed Causes

  • Animal Welfare
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Diversity in Workplace
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Human Rights
  • Living Wage & Employee Rights
  • Recycling
  • Renewable Energy
  • Reputation
  • Societal Impact

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Since 1985, Patagonia has pledged 1% of sales to preserve and restore the natural environment. They have also awarded over $89 million in cash and in-kind donations to domestic and international grassroots environmental groups.

The Body Shop

The Body Shop sell beauty products but is best known for its activism work for Forever Against Animal Testing.

United Kingdom flag Brighton

Committed Causes

  • Animal Welfare
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Diversity in Workplace
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Human Rights
  • Living Wage & Employee Rights
  • Recycling
  • Renewable Energy
  • Reputation
  • Societal Impact

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

The Body Shop is a B corp business which means that it lives up to the highest social and environmental standards. They help to empower people and communities worldwide through their Community Fair Trade programme.

Neal's Yard Remedies

Neal's Yard Remedies create natural health and beauty products using ethically sourced products.

United Kingdom flag London

Committed Causes

  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Recycling
  • Societal Impact
  • Animal Welfare
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Diversity in Workplace
  • Health & Wellbeing
  • Human Rights
  • Living Wage & Employee Rights
  • Reputation

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

In 2014, Neal's Yard Remedies became the first health and beauty brand to receive 100/100 for ethics by The Ethical Company Organisation.

10 ethical companies to watch in 2021 

As ethical investing is the core of what we do at Wealthify, we like to keep our eyes open for the new companies paving the way for future generations. Here are our top 10 rising ethical brands to watch:  

Company Committed Causes What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Lucy & Yak

Lucy & Yak create colourful unisex clothing from organic and recycled materials.

United Kingdom flag Brighton

Committed Causes

  • Societal Impact
  • Living Wage Employer& Employee Rights
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Reputation
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Renewable Energy
  • Recycling

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Lucy & Yak are transparent about everything they do. You can even find exactly who made your clothing by matching your label with their directory of tailors.

Toast Ale

Toast Ale uses donated bread that would have otherwise gone to waste to brew craft beer.

United Kingdom flag London

Committed Causes

  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Recycling
  • Carbon Footprint

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Toast Ale has saved 2,072,429 slices of bread and donates 100% of profits (or 1% of revenue, whichever is greater) to fixing the food waste system, donating £48,498 to charity (so far!).

Dame

Dame is the world's first reusable tampon applicator.

United Kingdom flag London

Committed Causes

  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Recycling
  • Carbon Footprint

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Dame tackles the period footprint of single-use and non-recyclable materials by offering a sustainable solution for women. Dame is officially carbon negative.

Small Giants

Small Giants create sustainably made snacks from insects (yes, bugs).

United Kingdom flag London

Committed Causes

  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Carbon Footprint

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Made from cricket flour, Small Giants aim to show how eating insects are a great alternative to eating meat due to their very low greenhouse emissions and water consumption.

Fuergy

Fuergy is on a mission to make renewables effective and affordable to everyone.

Slovak Republic flag Bratislava

Committed Causes

  • Renewable Energy
  • Carbon Footprint

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Fuergy optimises energy consumption by enabling customers to sell unused renewable energy to members of your community - via an AI-powered device.

LettUsGrow

LettUsGrow is a farming solution that allows you to grow food closer to consumption.

United Kingdom flag Bristol

Committed Causes

  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Recycling
  • Carbon Footprint
  • Animal Welfare

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

LettUsGrow uses technology to reduce agriculture's environmental impact by designing and building aeroponic farm management software for indoor and vertical farms.

Igloo

Igloo is an energy company helping customers use as little power as possible.

United Kingdom flag Southampton

Committed Causes

  • Renewable Energy
  • Carbon Footprint

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Igloo energy uses technology and analysing data to reduce the amount of energy used in homes, with the larger goal of helping the world get a cleaner energy system.

HumanForest

HumanForest offers Londoner's a free 10 minutes cycle every day on a green e-bike.

United Kingdom flag London

Committed Causes

  • Renewable Energy
  • Carbon Footprint

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

HumanForest gives people the option to make their journey on a e-bike that emits zero greenhouse gases.

Beauty Kubes

Beauty Kubes provide a plastic-free range of shampoo and beauty products.

United Kingdom flag Cornwall

Committed Causes

  • Carbon Footprint
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Animal Welfare
  • Renewable Energy

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

Beauty Kubes create handmade innovative solid shampoo alternatives to plastic shampoo bottles to help reduce the number of plastic bottles that end up in landfill.

KANKAN

KANKAN puts luxury soap in re-usable cans to provide a simple refill option.

United Kingdom flag London

Committed Causes

  • Carbon Footprint
  • Ethically Sourced Materials
  • Animal Welfare

What makes them stand out from the crowd?

KANKAN aim to reduce the consumption of single-use plastics at home so have created a simple solution with refillable soap cans. For every re-usable can sold, KANKAN plant a tree with onetreeplanted.org.

What is greenwashing, and why do you need to be aware of it?

A simple greenwashing definition is when a company makes a claim to be environmentally friendly, which turns out to be false5. The purpose is to make customers believe the brand is doing more to protect the environment than it actually is.

As we’ve already mentioned, our survey revealed over 70% of consumers believe brands only commit to a cause to appear ‘woke’ or more ‘green’. So how do you spot a genuine brand from one who’s greenwashing?

How to avoid greenwashing

An example of greenwashing we’re all probably familiar with is food items that boldly proclaim to be ‘low fat’ or ‘sugar-free’ but then don’t talk about all the less healthy ingredients they contain. This is called a hidden trade-off, and the same principle applies across most types of greenwashing.

Common forms of greenwashing include companies claiming to use ‘recycled content’ when, in fact, only a small portion of their items are made from recycled materials.

When it comes to how to identify greenwashing, it’s not always easy to spot. In fact, our survey revealed over 40% of UK adults said they weren’t able to tell the difference between a genuine ethical brand vs greenwashing.

To help spot the difference, here are our top tips on how to avoid greenwashing:

  1. Don't fall for the green emoji

It’s easy for a company to slap on green branding, sprinkle environmental emojis through social posts and use eco-friendly language. Don’t take things at face value, always dig a little deeper.

  1. Be wary of vague claims

You should be especially mindful of any ethical or environmental claims that are vague. If key details such as dates, amounts and figures aren't included, it's likely to be false.

  1. Look for measurable proof

Never take a company's claim at face value; you need proof. If they don't back up with links to reports, data or case studies, question them on it.

  1. Check outside credibility

Don’t forget to check for unbiased opinion from third party endorsements. You can check sites such as Ethical Consumer or use the app Good on You to look up a company’s ethical rating.  

  1. Look at the big picture

It's great if a company can show they’re environmentally friendly in one area. But don't assume one 'green' thing makes a company ethical. Look at the organisation as a whole.

How you can shop more ethically​ — without going broke

With over three-quarters of people saying they want to shop more ethically, we asked what's holding them back. Over half admit they find it too expensive — showing that many do find it challenging financially to become an ethical consumer.

To help show you how to shop more ethically and sustainably, we've put together a checklist to remember at checkout:

 

 

For each of us and our different lifestyles, the answer to “how you can shop more ethically” will be slightly different. And making the switch to sustainable brands won't come easily to everyone. The convenience of purchasing a non-ethical brand and indulging in shopping impulses can be tricky to overcome. You can start small with little swaps. But the main thing to remember is every purchase you make is an investment, so make sure it’s with brands that align with your values.

 

So, will woke make you broke?

Definitely not — so long as you make smart choices and do your homework.

50% of people surveyed spend less than £50 a month on sustainable and ethical products. So while the conscious consumer market may not be affordable for everyone, it's not out of reach for the average consumer.

It’s all about where you put your pound, and teaching yourself that every purchase should be an investment. In fact, by focusing on investment pieces, you could actually save money by spending less on highly disposable impulse buys. Being conscious of where your money is going is the best starting point for becoming an ethical consumer.

*Wealthify completed an ethical consumer survey with 2000 respondents in March 2021.

 

References:

1: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/woke

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/woke

2: https://www.cim.co.uk/exchange/editorial/when-brands-go-woke-do-they-go-broke/

3: https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/88-blue-planet-2-changed-david-attenborough/

4: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/sites/default/files/inline-files/Ethical%20Consumer%20Markets%20Report%202020.pdf

5: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/greenwashing

 

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Please remember the value of your investments can go down as well as up, and you could get back less than invested.

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