THE BLOG
11/18/2013 04:19 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2014

A Better World Is the New Bottom Line

What if every dollar we spent made the world a little bit better? What if everything we wore, we ate, and absolutely everything we bought empowered someone to better their life and the lives of those in their community? Imagine what that world could look like -- a world in which everyone had the opportunity to live with purpose and dignity. A world in which we help people help people.

This world is within reach. From Sevenly to Warby Parker, SoleRebels Footwear to Equal Exchange, there are businesses small and large dedicated to creating a better world through trade. But we have to cast our net wider. We can't settle or slow down now. We can't stop at feeling good about the socially responsible sunglasses we bought for the summer, or the Fair Trade chocolate we stock in our cabinets. What about everything else we buy?

It's a terribly tricky balance to strike. On the one hand, we want to make better choices. And we should. We should buy chocolate directly sourced from a cacao cooperative empowering farmers to provide for their families. We should buy sunglasses from a company that is bringing affordable eyewear to the world's poorest. But we can't let these better choices make us complacent. We can't use that better buy to justify the rack of sweatshop-sourced products in our closet. Every product has a story, and it's up to us to choose which story we want to live on.

It's up to us. It's up to us to decide whether we ignore the story behind the price tag. It's up to us to decide whether the voices of the people making the products we buy should be heard. There are over 20 million farmers left to survive on a shoestring while growing the beans that go into our morning cup of coffee; millions of people work in unsafe and inhumane working conditions to make the clothes we wear each day. For these people surviving on far below a living wage, opportunity is scarce.

But we can't keep pointing fingers at big retailers and manufacturers, at governments and institutions. Change isn't only up to them. We share a collective responsibility to recreate the systems around us. We have every power as consumers to show companies what we care about, to show smallholder farmers, factory workers and artisans alike that we value their story. The first step in making change is realizing that in our world today, the power is truly in our hands. We are presented with an opportunity to reconnect -- to remember what it means to be part of a community, to lead a dignified and purposeful life. We have the chance to share that opportunity with people who deserve it just as much as we do.

This is a moment for all of us to stop for a second and imagine: to imagine the voices of the people behind the products we buy; to imagine what it means to feed a family of six with only two dollars a day; to imagine what it's like to work in a factory that may very well collapse or catch fire at any given moment. We can change this. The power to create a world without poverty is entirely in our hands as consumers and as a community. Through our voices and our purchases, we can take the first steps towards that world.

This is a call to action more than any other I've ever made. This is a request that everyone who reads this article commits to buying better, to supporting companies working towards a better world.

Believe it can be: a society in which all people - no matter their social standing - can all live and prosper together. Believe in a society in which we think of others first, a business community where a better world is our bottom-line. We can create a world in which we help people help people -- in which we inspire each other to be better.

We can, and we will, reweave community.