Holiday 2012 Guide: Discerning Shopping to Give Back

It's time for the holidays, when millions of Americans head out to malls, eager to overspend for themselves and their loved ones in the name of holiday spirit. Our fervent interests in how big of a flat screen we can buy, or which boots are on sale, seems to remain an undying American tradition. But when it comes to the products that we hunt for -- specifically those that are bargains -- our better judgment about whether they are made unethically or not tends to be overlooked.

Even in light of a circumstance as catastrophic as the Bangladeshi garment factory fire, where American brands are deeply involved, consumers have not been deterred. In fact, we are consuming bargains at a greater rate than ever. This Cyber Monday sales netted approximately $1.98 billion when Americans shopped from their 'Made in China' laptops. Instead of constantly indulging in these bargains I wonder why we, as consumers, can't provide the backbone for Bangladesh to have their Triangle Factory Fire moment? Why can't consumers start demanding ethics and fair-trade?

These current circumstances should be waking us up, fiercely urging us to think long and hard about where we spend our holiday money. These circumstances should remind us of how powerful our choices and purchases really are.

The good news is that we have options. Instead of focusing on a bargain this holiday, we can pay attention to all the incredible organizations that work year round promoting the idea of ethical shopping and fair-trade. Organizations like TOMS, Charity: Water, Nomi Network, and SAME SKY all give consumers the opportunity to see their holiday gifts transform into social good.

If you buy a bag from the Nomi Network, you become a part of their powerful circle helping young girls who have escaped from Cambodian brothels. On Charity: Water's Google Map see how your donation turned into a village's only source of sanitary water. Then meet the people who no longer have to walk for hours to unsafe and hazardous drinking waters -they now spend their time caring for their children, farming, or starting their own business.

At SAME SKY not only do you give the gift of beautiful jewelry, you give the gift of empowerment to a women's life and her community in Sub Saharan Africa. Just one Glass Bead Bracelet provides an HIV+ artisan with healthcare for an entire year. Or the purchase of a Hope Necklace buys an artisan's family food for an entire week.

Now boutiques and department stores are picking up on the ethical shopping movement. The beautiful Atelier 360 in Greenwich, Conn. works to "fashion a better world." The owners believe in the "triple bottom line philosophy, where they are committed to people, the planet and profit through curating artisan and sustainable fashion," said co-owner Liz Logie. Department stores have also joined the trend with brands like Maiyet now being sold at Barney's, and Macy's launched an entire Cause Marketing department.

Stores and organizations like the above are pioneering the ethical shopping movement. Their impact will change the lives of so many, and reshape the way we all think about consumerism.

This holiday season harness your power as a consumer, see and become a part of the trend. Become an advocate for shopping in what you believe in, and understand that you have the power to eradicate poverty while holiday shopping. Not only will you feel better as a person, but the person you're giving the gift to will appreciate it so much more when they know you took the time to give a gift that gives back.