Simple Beginner’s Guide To Ethical Living & Activism In 2020

What is ethical living? Why is ethical living important? How do you live sustainably? The simple, no-BS guide that answers all of your questions about ethical living in 2020! #ethicalliving #sustainableliving

Not everyone needs to live ethically, but we need millions of imperfect people living ethically to generate the change that we all deserve.

What is ethical living? Why is ethical living important? How do you live sustainably? The simple, no-BS guide that answers all of your questions about ethical living in 2020! #ethicalliving #sustainableliving

The Simple “Ethical Living” Definition

Ethical living is…

  • a personal choice
  • a philosophy
  • a lifestyle

But more specifically, the ethical lifestyle involves…

Intentional Daily Action

Yep. Ethical living involves making conscious decisions that reflect the ethics and moral values in regards to causes such as:

  • what you buy (consumerism)
  • maintaining ecological balance (sustainability)
  • protecting the environment (environmentalism)
  • animal welfare
  • human rights
  • etc.

^ These moral priorities drive decisions that influence our daily actions.

Simple, right?

Well, it actually goes just a little deeper than that.

Ethical Living Consists Of…

What We Think: The Ethical Living Mindset

The big question: “What do I value?”

Examples include…

  • Human rights
  • Reducing waste
  • Ending animal cruelty
  • Reducing my carbon footprint
  • Buying non-toxic products
  • Minimalism

What We Do: Ethical Living Habits

The big question: “What do I use/do on a daily basis?”

Examples include products and activities involving…

  • Fashion
  • Beauty
  • Food
  • Home
  • Wellness
  • Transportation & Energy
  • Activism

Ethical Living Is NOT…

  • an organized social movement
  • “just a trend” – it’s more than that! 😉

Why Is Ethical Living Important?

Many people think ethical living is an extreme lifestyle for “those hippies” who want to end child labor and/or climate change by buying soap made from sticks.

…it’s not that simple. (I wish it were!)

In fact, it’s easy to jump into this lifestyle with lots of passion but no effective plan.

An ethical lifestyle is important because big changes on the institutional level begin with small changes on the individual level.

That’s where ethical living comes in…

  • living = small, consistent actions
  • ethical living = small, consistent actions with a positive impact in the short and long-term

This is a lifestyle that sparks positive change.

With more and more people choosing to live ethically, more companies and bigger institutions will change the way they operate to respect our choices and moral values.

Big institutions make decisions based on where the money is. As consumers, we can make mass change by changing the way we live.

Not everyone needs to live ethically, but we need millions of imperfect people living ethically to generate the change that we all deserve.

How To Start Living Ethically In 3 Steps

“The solutions are not black and white, it’s more like a balancing act and trade offs.”

Amarjit Sahota, president of Organic Monitor

Step 1: Learn the basics

The fact that you’re reading this guide means that you are already on your way to living ethically.



Finish reading this guide.

It is filled to the brim with enough tips and advice to get you started on your own habits of ethical living.

Step 2: Choose ONE cause to focus on

The easiest way to figure out which cause to focus on is to ask:

  • What are the biggest problems you are observing in your community or that you hear about in the news?
  • Is there a particular issue you feel passionate about?
  • What is most important to you?

Most of us have multiple values that we want to advocate for. However, trying to do this right at the beginning is very much overwhelming.

Start slow.

Here are examples of causes that you might focus on:

  • Environmentalism
  • Sustainability
  • Zero waste
  • Access to ___ (food, housing, healthcare, etc.)
  • Human rights (in general or for specific groups/communities)
  • Animal rights

Write out a definition of exactly what you want to address.

Deal with just one problem at a time and stay focused.

Step 3: Slowly turn ethical living into a habit

Start small with implementing JUST ONE of the tips in this guide.

It doesn’t matter if it’s from the “ethical shopping” or “ethical activism & humanitarianism” section.

Remember! Ethical living is about what we think and what we do.

Take a 10-minute action to start shifting your mindset and daily actions today!

After you feel more comfortable with the small actions, keep up the momentum!

The ethical lifestyle is about intentional daily actions.

But you might be thinking, “There are WAY too many things to change!!”


You are absolutely right.

Here is my suggestion:

  1. Take it slow. Ethical living looks different for everyone so don’t feel too pressured or rushed.
  2. Try to implement as many of the basic actions and tips in this beginner’s guide as possible.
  3. Choose ONE ethical value that you want to focus on.

4. Implement the detailed tips & advice that are suggested in the specialized ultimate guide.

5. Congrats! You are now living ethically. If you’re nervous, here’s How To Explain Your Ethical Lifestyle Without Pissing People Off (yep! Get used to explaining it because people will ask!)

Ethical Shopping Guide For Beginners

Ethical Shopping In 30-Seconds

Everyone’s definition of sustainable and ethical is different.

This is how I define “ethical shopping”:

  1. Produced in a way that doesn’t harm or exploit people and/or animals
    • thriving and dignified work conditions & wages
    • support of traditional skills
    • cruelty-free products (no animal testing)
    • vegan
    • palm oil free
  2. Produced with a minimum impact on the planet
    • less or no pollution
    • less waste
    • less resources used
    • natural textiles and materials
    • low-carbon footprint
    • non-toxic dyes
    • recycled materials
    • organic & natural
    • thoughtfully packaged
    • thoughtful waste & resource management
    • and more
  3. Produced with ethical intentions (think “people over money”)

Why are ethical products so expensive?

There are many factors that go into the production of one item.

In general, the better the materials and labor that are used…the higher the cost of the final product.

For example, sustainable materials tend to cost more. Since sustainable materials are often natural materials, that means they are farmed in a way that is certified organic…which has cost associated with it.

Sustainable materials are also often farmed in a way that pays the workers fairly for their work and their products.

On the other hand, cheaper materials like polyester are synthetic. Synthetic materials are made from petrochemicals. There are a lot of environmental issues around making and disposing of them…but they’re very cheap to make.

My favorite visual breakdown of ethical product costs is this polo shirt that was made in Bangladesh:

What is ethical living? Why is ethical living important? How do you live sustainably? The simple, no-BS guide that answers all of your questions about ethical living in 2020! #ethicalliving #sustainableliving

And as you can see, the labor only costs about 12 cents.

When you think about everything that goes into making a shirt from growing the cotton to harvesting it, spinning it, dying it, turning it into fabric, cutting the fabric, sewing it, transporting it back and forth to multiple countries, and then getting the shirt into the store, it just seems wild that the entire process can be done so cheaply.

And then you start to think about WHO is actually paying those costs…

It’s usually you – the consumer paying for it!

But no worries! There are a few different ways that you can live ethically with a tight budget.

How To Be An Ethical Shopper Today

These ethical shopping tips cover the basics. I’ve left out the details of chemical names and ethical shop names to prevent you from getting overwhelmed! (But you can find them in the ethical fashion guide and ethical home guide)

Use this beginner’s checklist to get familiar with the ethical shopping lifestyle. After that, I suggest you explore our Ultimate Guides series to dive deeper into the details so that you can have a bigger impact!

Make a bigger impact by exploring the ultimate guides:

The Basic Checklist:

  • Ethical shopping is possible FOR EVERY BUDGET. Here’s some advice from the lovely Hannah Thiesen:
    • EVERYONE should buy less, and buy secondhand. 
    • Those who can afford a bit more: buy quality, invest in more expensive ethical brands that are doing good things to promote change in the fashion industry.
    • Those who can afford excess: divert that money to companies that are doing good.
  • Before you shop, learn How To Find and Research Ethical Brands for the most up-to-date practices of each brand. It takes as little as 5 minutes!
  • Ask yourself: “What do I need every single day? Is there a way for me to replace this item with something more socially responsible?”
  • Buy less stuff – simple but not always easy!
  • Take care of your clothes & belongings properly so that they last longer
  • Always donate your clothes & belongings or give them away when you’re ready to let them go
  • Buy used/secondhand items or swap with people in order to prolong the life of the items you already have
  • Buy things that are…
    • produced in a way that doesn’t harm or exploit people and/or animals
    • produced with a minimum impact on the planet
    • produced with ethical intentions (think “people over money”)
    • Shop for the full list of ethical and eco-friendly certifications & labels here
  • Buy local & seasonal – it’s can be cheaper and fresher!
  • Buy in bulk, or at least in larger portions so that you can reduce waste
  • Buy a zero-waste kit for everything from zero waste menstrual kits to zero waste lunch kits
  • Buy from ethical online marketplaces if you don’t have many ethical shops near you
  • Buy products from artisans
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances – start with lightbulbs!
  • Switch some of your products to zero waste options. For example…
    • plastic bottles to a reusable water bottle
    • disposable razors to a stainless steel safety razor
    • bottled shower gel to bars of soap
    • Here’s a complete list of zero waste swaps that are sustainable and ethical.
  • Try to find products in reusable packaging like glass, or sustainable/biodegradable packaging
  • Try to recycle everything from clothing to makeup!
  • Avoid disposable utensils, plates, and other day-to-day products
  • Bring your own bag to reduce plastic bag waste
  • Set up a compost bin for food scraps – start small!
  • Make your own stuff
    • grow a vegetable garden – and make it bee-friendly!
    • make your own makeup
    • make your own clothes
  • Eat fewer animal products (You can get protein from grains, legumes/edible plant seeds, tofu, beans, and vegetables)
  • NOTE: just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it’s good for the environment. In fact, it’s often the opposite. How? Well, many vegan leather alternatives such as PU are toxic to humans and the earth.
  • Avoid typical dry-cleaning services to save energy, money, and reduce pollution
  • Instead of banks, try to put your money in credit unions that re-invest their profits into the community. Just make sure they offer the same services as a traditional bank
  • Try DIY home projects to save energy, save money, and reduce your carbon footprint
  • Try and take more public transport, walk, or ride your bicycle instead of driving

Ethical Activism & Humanitarianism Guide For Beginners

Ethical Activism & Humanitarianism In 30-Seconds

Everyone’s definitions of “ethical”, “activism”, and “humanitarianism” are different.

This is how I define “ethical activism” and “ethical humanitarianism”…

Ethical Activism: Taking intentional action to help others with an eye for the big picture. (This can be for anything that you believe in! – animal cruelty, environmentalism, etc.)

Ethical Humanitarianism: Taking intentional action to help others with an eye for the big picture and empathy for the individual regardless of the political system people live under. (This is focused on human rights)

Here are some tips to get started:

  • ask people “what do you need?” instead of “I know what you need”
  • empower others (long-term) instead of offering conventional “help” (short-term)
  • turn complaints into a calls to action on the individualcommunity, or institutional level
  • approach complex issues by “thinking global, acting local” so we can take action in a more efficient and effective way

Activism and humanitarianism are closely tied to each other. To me, the main difference between the two is that humanitarianism is a form of activism that tends to be more focused on advocating for all people regardless of political systems in place.

The main difference is that humanitarianism is a form of activism that tends to be more focused on advocating for all people regardless of political systems in place.

How To Be An Ethical Activist & Humanitarian Today

These activism tips pertain to many causes that include sustainability, human rights, animal welfare, minimalism, and environmentalism.

You don’t have to spread yourself thin by diving into every cause you’re passionate. Take it slow! One cause at a time 🙂

Make a bigger impact by exploring:

The Basic Checklist:

  • Understand that human rights are standards that allow all people to live with dignity, freedom, equality, justice, and peace
  • Understand the principles of human rights:
    • Human rights belong to all people
    • Human rights cannot be taken away
    • Human rights should be respected without prejudice
  • Shop ethically with our Ethical Shopping Guide For Beginners Guide above
  • You don’t have to be vegan or vegetarian to advocate for animal and environmental rights. Check the animal rights guide to learn how.
  • Stop going on trips that are marketed at “humanitarian trips”. You might have good intentions, but the companies that run the trips don’t. The damage that you end up inflicting on the mental and economic state of the communities you are trying to help is very difficult to repair in the long-term. (What to do instead)
  • Make sure your fashion choices are respectful and culturally appropriate
    • Cultural appropriation = disrespecting the culture something originated from and disrespecting the original meaning behind it
    • Ask yourself: “Is this item respecting the culture & meaning it is representing/originated from?”
  • Avoid cruises and try to travel as ethically conscious as possible
  • Try to find “green” and sustainable options for technology. They have everything fair-trade phones and even green website hosting!
  • Move your money into an ethical bank or credit union that invests in empowering communities instead of investing in the fossil fuel industry
  • Grow some houseplants to improve the air quality in your home and in your neighborhood
  • When you want to buy something new, avoid impulse buying. If you see something you want, go away and think about it for at least 2 days. If you still want it a week or two later, then you are in a better mental state to make the purchase.
  • Remember that activism looks different for everyone. It’s all about intentional action with an eye for the bigger picture and empathy for individuals. Follow what works for you instead of trying to make your life look like someone else’s life. It’s not easy, but it’s doable! 🙂

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What is ethical living? Why is ethical living important? How do you live sustainably? The simple, no-BS guide that answers all of your questions about ethical living in 2020! #ethicalliving #sustainableliving


Ethical UnicornThe Good TradeThe Ethical Consumer, The Good Shopping GuideThe Art of Advocates For Human Rights

2 Replies to “Simple Beginner’s Guide To Ethical Living & Activism In 2020”

Thank you so much for this post. you have helped me gain knowledge on ethical living. looking forward to reading your related content.

Human of Impact

This is so great to hear, Susan! Your work is a huge contribution to society so I’m glad I could give you some new knowledge. 🙂


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