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Ethical Aspirations: 3 Ways Small Steps Create Big Change

Do you ever feel small when you look at injustice in the world? When it comes to environmental degradation, slave or underpaid labor, and racial disparities, you can “vote with your dollars” for a better world and establish more mindful habits. But, if you’re like me, you sometimes wonder what difference your ethical lifestyle efforts can really make. Or, maybe you feel overwhelmed by trying to do too much at once, or feel guilt over all the ways you “fail” to make an impact. 

Saying that small steps create big change is not just a cliche to make us feel good about ourselves or to allow complacency. It may seem counterintuitive, but small changes are crucial in our efforts to create impact! If you struggle in this area, consider these three key ways that your small, imperfect steps really do create big change – and then find some practical next steps to take on your own journey toward living in greater kindness to the earth and its people.

An Artisan in India and her daughter, whose well-being your purchases help support

#1: Small Steps Add Up

The feeling that each person is too small to make a difference is common and understandable, but dangerous. After all, consider the other side of the same coin: the feeling that leads us to support exploitative brands or create unnecessary waste, because we think, “What harm can one person really do?” So many “small” decisions made by individuals and the organizations we support have led to the crises we now have.

Our oceans are projected to contain more weight in plastics than fish by 2050, and recycling isn’t enough to offset the harm. Many of the world’s 75 million garment workers – most of whom are women – are not earning a living wage and suffer in unsafe working conditions, without the right to organize into unions, take medical leave, and more; meanwhile, discarded clothing is causing immense environmental harm. The list goes on.

I say none of this to guilt anyone (see #3)! Rather, I want to illustrate that just like small, harmful decisions add up, so must small, good decisions.

A Noonday Collection Ambassador chatting with Ana, an Artisan Entrepreneur in Guatemala

We can see this within Noonday alone. One order, one Trunk Show, or even one Ambassador may not feel like much. But together, we’re helping to sustain over 4,500 artisan jobs, and in turn, over 20,000 family members are living flourishing lives thanks to thousands of women saying “yes” to their own small change: buying accessories from Noonday. Their impact is even bigger when they spread the movement to their friends through hosting a Trunk Show, or when they create income with impact by becoming an Ambassador.

Over 30% of my orders in the last year were under $100. Over 20% of Noonday’s 2016 sales came through the work of Ambassadors who sold under $1,000 per month. What if these customers and Ambassadors assumed their contribution to the movement didn’t matter? The growth of our Artisan Partners’ businesses depends on us calling out the lies and saying “yes” to impact, even if it seems small. Being immersed in Noonday’s culture has encouraged me to think in this way, and it has absolutely informed other areas of my life.

#2: Small Steps are Sustainable

I led a Kind Consumer Challenge when 2018 began with the mission statement, “Together we will grow in kindness toward the earth and its people.” At the center was the belief that focusing on one area at a time would be more approachable, and longer-lasting, than trying to overhaul everything on January 1. So each month we took on just one topic. We researched the issues, planned what changes we would each commit to for the month, and equipped ourselves with what we needed for success.

Reusable snack bags and sustainable food wrap made of bees wax make for great eco-friendly alternatives! Also pictured: the Bonfire Wrap Bracelet and Zeritu Bracelet by Noonday Collection

We focused on reducing our dependence on plastics, particularly single-use plastics. We dove into ethical fashion, water usage, food, and more. Now that the official challenge has been over for a few months, I’m excited to look back and see how much my changes have lasted and accumulated. If I can learn to take 5-minute showers, so can you! Some even said that the challenge has inspired them in their plans for what to work on next, and they look to those plans with optimism rather than dread –  armed with resources and community to get them there! Habits that are introduced and internalized one at a time create lasting change and confidence to continue on the path.

#3: Small Steps Foster Self-Compassion and Invite Community

When we allow ourselves to be people of imperfect impact, we breathe a little easier. The key is that we strive for progress – not perfection. Noonday’s Ambassador Manifesto states, “By embracing our vulnerability, we create compassionate spaces of belonging for ourselves and others.” What if I had gone to my first Noonday conference and felt ashamed if my clothing weren’t 100% fair trade? I would have been more focused on myself than on all the inspiration I could be taking in that would propel me toward greater impact in my business and in my life. Instead, I’ve found a compassionate space where we can struggle together toward progress. When we’re all in this together, we find more than fluffy, feel-good vibes; we find the potential for real, lasting change that’s driven by hope and collaboration rather than shame and perfectionism.

Where to begin?

Let’s get super practical here: what are good next steps for you as you seek to make an impact? I have two key suggestions to help you explore your own everyday.

1) Kinder Habits: Observe Yourself for a Week

Pay attention to how you go about your day. Do you take super long showers? Buy bottled water? Drive when you could walk or bike or carpool? Are you throwing away a lot of food? Do your kids leave the lights on when they leave the room? Does your favorite restaurant always give you a plastic straw that you can decline next time? Do you need to find good reusable containers for your leftovers or reusable shopping bags?

Easy to carry and even fashionable, these reusable straws are a great way to limit your plastic usage!

Your daily routines might look different from mine, so the habit changes you make may look different too. Pause throughout the day to note those little habits that can be improved, make a list, and pick a “quick win” to tackle first so you’ll be emboldened toward the next.

2) Put Your Wallet to Work

Fair Trade and B-Corp certifications are based on the premise that when business is done right, it carries immense power to create a better world. This is also good news from the perspective of our wallets, because it points to potential we can explore. Maybe you already donate to justice-oriented causes, but are you tapping the potential of your spending and investing dollars too? I love knowing that even the money I spend on jewelry or invest in my 401(k) can create a flourishing world.

On the investing side, ask your financial advisor about SRI (Sustainable, Responsible, and Impact) investing, which uses ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) criteria for evaluating companies’ ethical and sustainability practices.

Noonday Collection is committed to Fair Trade Federation principles in all aspects of our business.

On the shopping side, create an intention to support more fair trade or B Corps or minority-owned businesses as you are able. This needn’t include a 37-point plan or a huge investment. Rather, instead of buying out of habit, simply pause each time you need something and consider alternatives. That’s it. When buying gifts or accessorizing for a special occasion, check out what’s new from Noonday’s artisan business partners around the globe. When looking for a new restaurant to check out, support a minority-owned one. When you are ready for a new car, consider a hybrid. Check out the list of Fair Trade and B Corps brands!

Ethically sourced flats made in Guatemala and sold by Root Collective, along with the Atitlan Tote by Noonday Collection

Over time and at your own pace, you’ll build up a list of businesses whose products you love and that you can support with confidence while sticking to your budget. It was during this kind of intentional period in my life that I discovered Noonday and found that beyond being my new go-to place for gorgeous accessories with story and impact, it was an opportunity for me to share an even broader vision with others as we gather! Earning income through inspiring change, and finding there a community of women all looking to live our best life of impact, has truly been a gift.

Making it Stick: Find Your Community

Noonday Collection Ambassadors jump for joy while on an Ambassador Trip to Vietnam

Do you have a place of mutual encouragement along the journey? A community that encourages you to take bold steps but does so with grace? A go-to resource when you need to know the best place to find affordable, ethically sourced socks or tips for instilling justice-minded habits in your kids? Find your community – perhaps as an Ambassador with Noonday – and work together to create a flourishing world, one step at a time.

Meet Julie Godshall

Julie lives in Madison, WI with her husband and two young kids. She’s a math geek with self-proclaimed great taste in binge-watchable British dramas and probably wrote this post in a fair trade coffee shop. She’s a former direct sales failure turned Ambassador and is thrilled she said “yes” to Noonday. Julie loves fostering community around beauty, story, and living with kindness toward the planet and its people.