Ethical consumerism (alternatively called ethical consumption, ethical purchasing, moral purchasing, ethical sourcing, ethical shopping also associated with sustainable and green consumerism) is a type of consumer activism based on the concept of dollar voting.[1] It is practiced through the buying of ethically-made products that support small scale manufacturers and local artisans, protect animals and the environment, and boycott products that exploit children as workers, are tested on animals, or damage the environment.[2]

The term "ethical consumer", now used generically, was first popularised by the UK magazine Ethical Consumer, first published in 1989.[3] Ethical Consumer magazine's key innovation was to produce 'ratings tables', inspired by the criteria-based approach of the then-emerging ethical investment movement. Ethical Consumer's ratings tables awarded companies negative marks (and from 2005 overall scores) across a range of ethical and environmental categories such as 'animal rights', 'human rights' and 'pollution and toxics', empowering consumers to make ethically informed consumption choices and providing campaigners with reliable information on corporate behaviour. Such criteria-based ethical and environmental ratings have subsequently become commonplace both in providing consumer information and in business-to-business corporate social responsibility and sustainability ratings such as those provided by Innovest, Calvert Foundation, Domini, IRRC, TIAA–CREF and KLD Analytics. Today, Bloomberg and Reuters provide "environmental, social and governance" ratings direct to the financial data screens of hundreds of thousands of stock market traders.[4] The not-for-profit Ethical Consumer Research Association continues to publish Ethical Consumer and its associated website, which provides free access to ethical rating tables.

Although single-source ethical consumerism guides such as Ethical Consumer, Shop Ethical,[5] and The Good Shopping Guide[6] have proven to be popular, they suffer from the drawback of incomplete coverage. User-generated ethical reviews are more likely, long-term, to provide democratic, in-depth coverage of a wider range of products and businesses.[7] The Green Stars Project[8] promotes the idea of including ethical ratings (on a scale of 1-5 green stars) alongside conventional ratings on retail sites such as Amazon or review sites such as Yelp.

The term political consumerism first used in a study titled “The Gender Gap Reversed: Political Consumerism as a Women-Friendly Form of Civic and Political Engagement” from authors Dietlind Stolle and Michele Micheletti is identical to idea of ethical consumerism; however in this study, the authors found that political consumerism is a form of social participation that often goes overlooked at the time of writing and needs to be accounted for in future studies of social participation.[9]

In a 2010 The Guardian article, British environmental writer and activist George Monbiot argued that green consumers who do not articulate their values are part of "a catastrophic mistake" on the grounds that such consumerism "strengthens extrinsic values" (those that "concern status and self-advancement"), thereby "making future campaigns less likely to succeed".[39]