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What would Jesus buy? New website helps consumers make decisions based on Biblical values

Published: Saturday, July 19 2014 4:50 a.m. MDT

In this Feb. 20, 2011 photo, the outside of a Lowe's store is shown in Dallas. Lowes is one of many organizations Faith-Driven Consumer feels has Christian values.

LM Otero, Associated Press

For some consumers, one big-box store might be the same as any other. But to brand strategist and Christian consumer Chris Stone, there's a moral distinction between Lowe's and Home Depot.

Stone is the founder of Faith-Driven Consumer, a website that takes cause marketing to a new level: It rates entertainment and companies based on Stone's biblical world view — a set of values applied to each company or film to see if it's compatible with Christian-minded consumers. Stone sees it as a way of helping Christian shoppers the way a site like Buy Green might attract environmentalists: By putting his faith lens over the business world.

Did the company donate big to charity? That's a point in its favor, according to Stone’s criteria. Did it support same-sex marriage or get a little too provocative in some ads? That might work against it.

While the Internet caters to values-based consumers who want to buy products that are everything from fair trade, cruelty-free or made without child labor, there are few sites that cater specifically to Christian groups for buying from specific brands or stores. The problem for some Christian consumers may be finding a site that best reflects their individual values and beliefs.

You are what you buy?

Values-based consumerism isn't a new concept, but the millennial generation has arguably elevated the practice of buying based on personal values with its marked enthusiasm for sustainability — in 2011, the Pew Research Center found that millennials are very concerned about the environment with 71 percent saying the U.S. should prioritize alternative green energy and 82 percent in favor of government policies that support wind, solar and hydrogen energy solutions.

Other research has found they are most likely to buy "responsibly made products" and are choosing bikes or mass transit over driving out of concern for the environment. They're also more likely to work for companies that exhibit strong corporate social responsibility, which doesn't surprise career expert and author Melissa Llarena.

These days, Llarena says, Americans don't trust corporations. A 2013 Harris Interactive survey found that Americans were twice as likely to trust small businesses as large ones. The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer from the Edelman global public relations firm found that more than half of Americans felt it was the government's job to protect consumers from businesses. All of this makes services like Faith-Driven Consumer and peer reviews very powerful tools, Llarena said.

"It's all about control. Corporations have given up a little bit of control to social media," Llarena said. "If a friend says they like a particular product, you assume they actually care more than a corporation. And with the advent of the Internet making information so accessible, you know more than you ever knew before [about corporate practices]."

Spending money according to personal beliefs and values — religious or secular — is a good thing, Ryan Howell says. Howell is a psychologist with San Francisco State University's Personality and Well-Being Lab and co-founder of Beyond the Purchase, an organization dedicated to exploring the connection between a person's happiness and how they spend their money. Through exhaustive research, Howell has found that, if spent correctly, money just might be able to buy happiness.

"Sometimes people go through their lives and they don’t have time to ask themselves about what they value," Howell said. "But [the way we spend money] has huge impacts on our well-being."

That impact is especially profound when people spend discretionary money on experiences — concerts, travel or other memory-making activities. In 2009, Howell published a study that polled 154 people ages 19 to 50 and found that people who spent their money on some sort of experience were not only made happy at the time of the purchase, but the experience continued to make them happy throughout their lives.

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