Is it possible to make money as an “ethical blogger”?

As an ethical, sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle blogger, is it possible for me to make money online without exploiting my readers and the planet?

Sidebar ads. Swipe up links. Kardashians advertising sweets that make your hair shiny. Let’s not skirt around the subject: The internet as it stands in 2019 is one hell of a money making machine. In fact, influencer marketing is set to become a $10 billion industry by 2020. 

At the same time, by 2020 we need to globally and drastically reduce our carbon emissions on a yearly basis if we have any hope of slowing down climate change.

Stick with me here, I promise I’m not just throwing random 2020 facts at you. 

With my blog becoming more and more like a “side hustle” and opportunities to make cash from creating online content becoming more and more common, I got to considering where I fit into all of this. On the one hand, I’ve always wanted to turn my blog into a business. On the other, I’ve branded myself as an “ethical lifestyle blogger” because I want to encourage positive changes and to bring people on my journey to more eco-conscious living. That means that I probs can’t get away with plugging detox teas (read: glorified laxatives) or cheap online clothing stores. Not that I want to.

Whilst rebranding my blog over the past couple of months I’ve been pondering whether it’ll actually be possible for me to hold onto my ethics whilst still making some serious cash from what I do online. Because, let’s be honest, that would be the ideal scenario. Can you be an ethical creator as a career? Or, more worryingly, is there such a thing as an “ethical” creator at all?

Let’s all cross our fingers that the answer is “yes”, otherwise I’m screwed. 

A bed with the laptop, phone and bag contents of a sustainable blogger splayed across it.

Sustainable bloggers and affiliate Links 

Affiliate links, be they posted on an Instagram story, in the body of a blog post or the description box of a YouTube video, can be a big money maker for creators that have a lot of followers. Those clicks really can add up. I mean, that’s what I’ve been told anyway, as someone who has probably made a grand total of 15p from them.

However, when it comes to encouraging people to live more ethically conscious and sustainable lives, the underlying message is usually this: Shop less. 

So, encouraging people to buy a product in order to get a percentage of that sale is difficult to navigate on a good day and completely hypocritical on a bad day. Using affiliate links online can already lead to a whole host of abuse (cue random, DP-less accounts on twitter telling you that you’re a sell out), let alone when you put yourself out there as someone trying to be more sustainable. Being an ethical lifestyle blogger means that, when using affiliate links/codes, I try to do so in a way that isn’t forceful. I also flat-out refuse to tell people that they “need” something or to refer to items as “must haves”.

Let’s be honest, stainless steel straws are great, but they’re not pivotal to our survival. 

When I do use an affiliate link from now on, it will be for sustainable items created by companies that I truly support. I want to provide people with alternatives to the things they already buy regularly, not just encourage them to buy more and more things because it’ll make me some cash. Naturally, if I was willing to plug anything, regardless of ethics, I would have more affiliate opportunities. But does that automatically mean more money? Not necessarily. Because if people trust you, your values and your opinions, they’re more likely to click. 

Swings and roundabouts, right?

Sustainable bloggers and sponsored posts 

The paid-for post – aka anything that is marked with “sponsored” or “AD” – is the bread and butter of making money on the internet. It’s certainly where I’ve made most of my income online up until this point.

All “influencers” (ew) will at some point face the challenge of having to decide whether a brand who is offering them money actually fits with their image. However, if you have a strict set of morals that you abide by online – for example, if you only talk about cruelty-free or vegan products or refuse to promote fast fashion – those instances where you have to say “no” become frequent.

For one thing, there are simply less sustainable brands out there. That automatically limits both the affiliate programs and sponsored post opportunities for ethical bloggers. But the same could easily be said about any blogger with any kind of niche: It just doesn’t make business or “I want to be true to myself” sense to jump on board every ad opportunity out there. 

However, if one thing’s for sure it’s that the budget of the collaborations that sustainable bloggers can accept will probably be much lower. “Ethical brand” is usually synonymous with “smaller brand”, meaning that they just don’t have as much money to throw in the direction of blog campaigns. H&M will certainly have more cash to spend on marketing than an independent, slow-fashion designer, for example. It’s just the reality.

The homepage of the sustainable blog "Bethany Austin" displayed on it

Sustainable bloggers and side-bar ads 

I don’t use systems like Adsense for two reasons. 1. They tend to look pretty bloody ugly. 2. You, the blogger, have little to no control over what those adverts are for. So, whilst you could be all about vegan living, you might end up, by some strange fault in an algorithm, promoting McDonalds.

Of course, it is possible to forgo the Adsense route entirely and to offer your own ad spaces which you pre-approve, but that again brings us to the fact that ethical brands often have smaller budgets. Again, comparatively, we’re likely to have to charge less for the same service.

Sustainable bloggers and passive income/services 

Of all the opportunities to make money online, this is probably the one that fits in well with the goals of ethical creators who also want to make money.

Creating and selling a product (e-Books, apps, guides) or a service (coaching, for example) leaves you in total control. That means that you can mould it to fit whatever your ethics are. And, unlike other money making systems online, it doesn’t rely on other people sticking to their promises. In 2019 with new my blog name, new domain and the whole “rebranding” shebang, I intend to make this one of my largest streams of income.

Watch this space. 

My conclusion 

The truth of the matter is that I think my message – and the message of all creators who are trying to be more sustainable and ethical – is extremely important. Ultimately, I would still do this, even if it didn’t bring me in a single penny. However, whilst it might be slightly (or a lot!) more difficult to embrace money making opportunities online if you abide by stricter moral rules, it’s by no means impossible. In fact, I’d say it’s very possible, but it does require rethinking the way that we make an income as influencers and being even more conscious about anything we promote. It means letting go of a lot of what we thought was necessary to make serious money: The constant pushing of affiliate links, telling people that they “need” 10 new things a week and accepting every sponsored opportunity that comes our way. And, instead, we need to use these systems to generate trust with our readers. If they know that we only promote or link to things that we truly believe in, without forcing them to take on unsustainable shopping habits, we’re more likely to become their “go-to” for advice. Now that’s how you create a long-term income without exploiting your readers or the planet.

Are there people that create online content who have a strong set of ethics? Of course! Is there such a thing as an entirely “ethical” creator. Well, no. But only because there’s no such thing as an entirely ethical person, either.

So, for now, I’ll keep using the label “ethical lifestyle blogger” and will try to make bank whilst doing so.

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4 Comments

  1. January 6, 2019 / 6:30 pm

    I love how thoughtfully you’ve considered this!

    Belle Brita is a Christian feminist lifestyle blog. I cover quite a few topics, including my life with Crohn’s Disease. Due to all this, as well as my own personal ethics, I’ve turned down a great deal of sponsored opportunities in the last three or four years.

    No, I won’t push vitamins that give you “more energy” and “help” you lose weight, no matter what the monetary offer is.

    No, I won’t promote a dress that I don’t get to receive first to test and review.

    No, I won’t put do-follow links in my blog posts, no matter how much money is offered. (Seriously, this is a hard one, since I’ve had companies offer me $75 for a single, relevant do-follow link in an existing blog post).

    No, I won’t support your “gender equality” campaign when roughly 16% of your 100+ characters are female (I counted).

    Those are just the most notorious examples I’ve turned down.

    Good luck offering your own services and/or creating your own products this year! That’s definitely the best way for any blogger to make money, regardless of niche. I hope to do that too.

    • Bethany
      Author
      January 14, 2019 / 9:04 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment. It sounds like you have some really strong and important ethics that you stand by with your blog: I massively respect that. It’s nice to know that we’re in this together.

      Good luck to you too, my lovely xxx

  2. January 7, 2019 / 10:36 pm

    Just found your blog and I lovee. This is a super interesting post. Sponsored posts/ content are so tricky to navigate as it is, so being an ethical blogger adds another dimension! I so agree that ultimately you should stick by your ethics, it’s easy to get excited when a company reaches out to you, but morals first. Excited to follow your ethical fashion journey! xo
    http://www.lexiealexandra.com

    • Bethany
      Author
      January 11, 2019 / 8:21 am

      Thanks so much, Lexie! You’re totally right: Excitement can often take over when we get sponsorship offers but it’s so necessary to step back and assess whether it’s right for you. x

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