Conscious Consumerism sounds like a fancy term, doesn't it!? I especially think that because it’s also an alliteration and I LOVE alliterations (maybe that’s just a writer’s thing…). Coming to think of it, climate change or water wars are alliterations, too, even though I wouldn’t describe those terms as ’fancy’, but rather ‘sobering’.
I also love everything that has to do with ‘conscious’ or ‘consciousness’, which has been a life long quest of mine. Do you remember when conscious uncoupling became a thing? Oh hey, alliteration alert again…
There is a reason why people use alliterations and the ones who come up with these terms don’t use them by chance, they understand how the human brain works. I could explain that now but this blog post isn’t about neuroscience. (If you still want to know leave a comment and I'll explain ;)). It’s about conscious consumerism and how it relates to climate action and other challenges created by an expanding human footprint (water scarcity, food insecurity and the extinction of plant and animal species, - biodiversity) and what you can do about it.
As hip and as fancy this term might sound and as it makes its way into the mainstream, what does it actually mean and more important, what does it mean to live by it?
First let’s look at the definition of consumerism and conscious:
Consumerism is a social and economic order that encourages an acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.
Conscious: having knowledge of something; aware.
Our consumption and the market place today take into very little to no account the damage that we are imposing on others or the public good. In this case here, when we speak about public good, we mean environmental issues and maintaining biodiversity.
It goes something like this:
Companies (producers) sell to consumers. The companies look to make a profit and the consumer looks to maximize utility. The decisions of producers and consumers are guided by price signals. In other words, as a consumer you want to get the most out of the dollars you spent, and as a producer you want the highest profit possible.
The mentality too often is still, for example, I take a certain action as a business that maybe pollutes the waterway and kills part of the local ecosystem, that might be terrible for the public good, but it shows up well on my balance sheet because I don’t have to pay for that damage. (This, by the way, is happening in our rainforests around the globe every single day!)
As a consumer that is buying a product, let’s say I am filling my gas tank of a regular internal combustion vehicle and thereby as I drive, emitting carbon dioxide and contributing to global warming, and thereby threatening other species as well as the human species, that may be kind of okay for me, but that carbon emission that I make leads to a damage worldwide that I don’t take into account in my individual action.
We are all guilty of that and there are many examples like these. That’s how things have been done since you and I were born on this Earth. Unfortunately this mentality is no longer sustainable. What we need to cultivate now is a new conscious way of living and consuming. Some of the changes might not happen over night, such as buying a new zero-emission car, which is still pricey, and in the end it is a question of finances for most of us.
This is an example where producers and consumers have to meet each other. Consumers and producers alike need to be motivated, the easiest way to do that is by price, to make choices that are more sustainable and support our public goods that we all share.
Now, there ARE things that YOU and I CAN do to consume more consciously TODAY without much effort or investment. As consumers we have a lot of power how we spend our money.
Think about it, if you and thousands of other people stop buying a particular product, the producer can either file for bankruptcy or has to employ a different strategy. You can effect that kind of change in all industries, if its withdrawing your money from banks that are supporting investments in oil, natural gas and coal or from any industry that is driven by unsustainable activities such as cattle, lumbering, agribusiness and extractive industries. It seems the only longterm change ever achieved has been through lack of funding a thing/cause. It can even stop wars.
Put your money in industries that have adapted sustainable practices. One easy way to identify such industries is by looking for bio/organic/sustainably sourced certification on labels (food, wood/furniture, clothing).
Check out our Sustainability 101 page with all kinds of tips but here are some quick ones that are really easy to do on a daily basis and don’t cost much or better even save you money:
1. Buy products that come from sustainable sources, especially food. Check out this food label guide. Eat less red meat.
2. Bring your own bag when you go grocery shopping.
3. Avoid plastic of any kind when you can and if you can’t, reuse it as often as possible and recycle it properly. Switch to glass water bottles if available and possible.
4. Bring your own reusable mug to your coffee shop (I LOVE the Keep Cup !).
5. Please SAVE WATER! This is a big one because of increasing water scarcity globally.
FYI Water access is already hugely unequal, with U.S. residents using 700-900 litres (185 - 240 gallons) a day (!!!), Europeans about 200 litres (53 gallons) and many of the world's poorest just 10-15 litres (2.6-4 gallons) . Only take showers 5 minutes max, don’t use the washing machine for only one sweater or your dishwasher for only 3 plates, fill them up. Don’t let the water run while brushing your teeth or soaping your hands.
6. Save energy! Turn your computer off at night, or better unplug everything you are not using during the night. If you don’t use a light, switch it off. Use energy saving lightbulbs (LED) and if you buy new appliances, look for the ENERGY STAR Label. Use darker screens on your phone, tablets and computers. Wash clothes in cold water if possible.
7. Use only recycled toilet paper, tissue paper and paper towels.
8. Sign up for paperless billing everywhere (bank, insurance, credit cards, health care, any kind of bills you have).
9. Don’t let your car run unnecessarily, if you are not actually driving it (like waiting for someone or being lost on your phone). Car pool once in a while.
10. Spend more time in nature! You will learn to appreciate the beautiful planet we have and that in turn hopefully will inspire you to take better care of it. Nature soothes your mind, body and soul.
All of these things are very easy to incorporate. It only requires a little consciousness on your part, a tweaking of your daily habits and thoughtful action.
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