Voting With Your Wallet, Mindful Consumption, and Alternative Gift Giving

One of the most crucial ways to make a difference is to use your power as a consumer, making your voice heard through your purchasing decisions. If you need to buy products, choosing to buy products from a socially conscious point of view is a great way to participate in civic engagement during your every day routine. Buying fair trade and/or local products reduces or eliminates the need for mass production and unfair working situations, benefits the artisan directly, and helps keep our local economy healthy and stable. By participating in this type of lifestyle, the local economy will grow and more individuals can earn their way out of poverty. 

Do you find that you struggle buying people gifts for birthdays, weddings, graduations, and special occasions? Research is showing that it may be because people simply have enough. In a world filled with excess, "stuff matters less", according to this insightful Washington Post article. As Carolyn Hax encourages us, "It’s time to ask ourselves every time:

  • Does this thing I’m about to buy have any chance of being important to its recipient?
  • Does it get cash to someone strapped, free up time for someone busy, show support or appreciation for someone down, strengthen connections for someone lonely, provide a pleasant experience to someone who wants for nothing material?
  • Would this person prefer no gift at all?
  • Is there something only I can give, even just my thoughts, expertise or time?

Strive to support your local economy through buying locally produced items and supporting local businesses. Buying locally not only supports our community and the people who work in it, but also reduces the environmental and financial impact of transporting products long distances. Buying local helps our community prosper and keep our local economy healthy, diverse, and stable. Learn about CIBA, the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance. Download the Willamette Valley Chinook Book App for free to get coupons to local, sustainable businesses.

Access resources from the Center for a New American Dream. The Center for a New American Dream helps Americans to reduce and shift their consumption to improve quality of life, protect the environment, and promote social justice; they are focused on inspiring, engaging, and challenging Americans to re-examine their cultural values on consumption and consumerism and initiating a new national conversation around what “the good life” and the “American dream” mean.

Visit Better World Shopper. Better World Shopper is a site dedicated to providing people with a comprehensive, up-to-date, reliable account of the social and environmental responsibility of every company on the planet AND making it available in practical forms that individuals can use in their everyday lives. Coming out of more than 5 years of intensive research, this work is based on a comprehensive database of over 1000 companies and utilizes 25+ reliable sources of data to cover everything from the environment to human rights, community development to animal protection.

Utilize the Buycott app to assist you in supporting companies and products that share your values and ethics!

Consider shifting your consumer habits to reduce your consumption and buy more sustainably when you are shopping. See below for a resource of ways to become a more socially conscious shopper.

Alternative Gift-Giving

According to, alternative gift giving (or virtual giving) is "a form of gift giving where the donor, instead of buying a gift for the recipient, makes a donation to a charitable organization in the recipient’s name and the organization provides an "alternative gift" or "virtual gift" - usually a certificate or card - for the recipient." Alternative gift giving is giving gifts that pay it forward. Check out the following list for a few examples of alternative gift giving sites:

  • Alternative Gift Giving Locally with Community Services Consortium. Community Services Consortium administers poverty-fighting programs in Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties, including Linn Benton Food Share, Community Housing Services, Utility Assistance, CSC Youth Garden, CSC YouthBuild, Career Tech Charter School and other education and job training programs.
  • is "a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. Leveraging the Internet and a worldwide network of microfinance institutions, Kiva lets individuals lend as little as $25 to help create opportunity around the world." You can learn more about how the process works at the Kiva website.
  • is "leading the fight against climate change, making it easy and affordable for any individual, business or organization to reduce and offset their climate impact and hasten the transition to a low-carbon future." Through, you can make a cash donation to offset your own carbon footprint through a variety of options, from which kind of vehicle you drive, the home you live in, or how much you travel. This could be a great option for the eco-friendly traveler in your family!
  • is run through the Arbor Day Foundation and is a great resource for alternative gift giving in a sustainable, environmentally-friendly way. It has a webpage dedicated specifically to gift giving that lays out your options very easily (and affordably!). You can purchase a gift tree for $3, dedicate a tree to a loved one for $10, or buy chocolate/coffee/t-shirts for your tree-loving friends and family!
  • Smile Train is an international children’s charity with a sustainable approach to a single, solvable problem: cleft lip and palate. Millions of children in developing countries with unrepaired clefts live in shame, but more importantly, have difficulty eating, breathing and speaking. Cleft repair surgery is simple, and the transformation is immediate. Our sustainable model provides training and funding to empower local doctors in 85+ developing countries to provide 100%-free cleft repair surgery in their communities. Learn about tribute gifts with Smile Train.
  • Heifer International "work[s] with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the Earth" - and "it all started with a cow." "A gift to Heifer helps provide livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle for reliable sources of food and income. View the Heifer gift catalog to choose from several charitable gifts like water buffalos, chicks, pigs, goats and, yes, even Heifers. Or learn about other ways to donate gifts to poor families around the world." Find more about Heifer charitable gift options.

Fair Trade

Fair Trade is an organized social movement that aims to help producers in developing countries to make better trading conditions and promote sustainability. It advocates the payment of a higher price to exporters as well as higher social and environmental standards. Check out this video from Fair Trade USA to get a better idea of what fair trade certified products can do for our global community.

In other words, fair trade goods are promote fair wages and fair working conditions for producers and exporters. They are goods produced by individuals that directly benefit those individuals through our purchasing power.

Check out the following list for a few examples of fair trade gift giving sites:

  • Many Hands Trading is a locally owned and operated store that strives to sell only fair trade goods. They employ locally and effect globally by conscious purchasing and by direct connections with artisans. Many Hands sells cards, home decor, accessories, body products, and other regional products and gifts. Many Hands Trading has a main store located at 259 SW Madison Avenue in Corvallis and a satellite store located in the Memorial Union on the OSU campus.
  • is an "exceptional source for unique handmade gifts, jewelry, home decor, art and sculpture, textiles, serveware and personal accessories representing the diverse cultures of artisans in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. One of the world's largest fair trade organizations and a founding member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the company strives to improve the livelihood of tens of thousands of disadvantaged artisans in 38 countries." For more information on the organization, visit their site. 
  • is in partnership with National Geographic to be a source of fair trade purchasing. They even have a "Unique Gifts" section of their website!
  • SERRV is a nonprofit organization with a mission to eradicate poverty wherever it resides by providing opportunity and support to artisans and farmers worldwide. At SERRV, every product has a true story behind it. These stories are uplifting. They are about freedom from poverty and achieving basic human rights, such as access to food, shelter, education, and basic health care. And they are stories about equality and dignity for all people.  
  • Global Goods Partners is "a nonprofit organization that sells handmade, fair trade products in order to improve the economic status of women in marginalized communities around the world. [They] work with nearly 40 artisan groups which collectively employ over 3,000 women in close to 20 countries."
  • Krochet Kids International is a non-profit organization whose mission it is to "empower people to rise above poverty." They work with more than 150 individuals in Peru and Uganda to create handmade hats, t-shirts, technology cases, and more to teach a valuable skill in both a sustainable and fair way. While the individuals are employed with Krochet Kids they're also receiving an education and valuable mentorship to living a brighter future. A perfect gift for those friends and family that love the snow - their hats are very warm and durable!