There is a famous George Carlin skit where he talks about how people acquire so much stuff and revolve their life around buying new and shinier things. He touches on a point about how individuals are so consumed with all their stuff that it brings them more stress than joy. When you are about to buy a new product, do you ever consider the implications of the purchase? Do questions like - Where did this product come from? How was it made? Do I actually even need this product? - ever cross your mind? Conscious consumerism is a growing trend that has entered today’s cultural zeitgeist and while it does not mean living in an empty room and owning no belongings, this movement is inspiring people to avoid mindless consumption and be more aware of their relationship with their stuff as George Carlin would say.
Conscious consumerism promotes purchasing habits that have a positive social, economic, and environmental impact. As the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation podcast describes, consumers vote with their dollars by buying ethical and sustainable products and in some cases, buying nothing at all. The overall focus of conscious consumerism is for people to reduce their ecological footprint, which measures “how fast we consume resources and generate waste compared to how fast the planet can recover from our habits.” While not a new concept, conscious consumerism has started to catch on over the past couple of years. By 2021, consumers in the United States are expected to spend $150 billion on sustainable products - and businesses are joining this movement as well. Before 2013, only 20% of S&P 500 companies publicly shared their environmental, social, and governance (E.S.G) information. By 2019 though, 90% of S&P 500 companies revealed their sustainable initiatives and priorities. At Plant People, we have partnered with Package Free - the leading zero waste lifestyle brand and store - to help you become a conscious consumer and live a more sustainable lifestyle in four easy ways.
Support ethical and sustainable brands: Unfortunately, the United States does not have the strictest policy around how companies market their product to you. A brand can say it’s “ethically sourced,” “all-natural,” or “artisan made” without having any documentation to substantiate these claims. Yes, Fair Trade Certified companies have to meet a certain set of standards, but it is not enough. Use websites like Good On You, Done Good, and Project Just to learn where a company stands on issues like labor conditions, material sourcing, and waste. Another great resource is a non-profit group called the B Lab, which has created its own process and certification to evaluate a company’s social responsibility. To be awarded a B Corp certification, companies need “to achieve a minimum verified score on the B Impact Assessment—a rigorous assessment of a company’s impact on its workers, customers, community, and environment.” Companies like Patagonia, All Birds, Ben & Jerry’s, and illy are on this list. So the next time you are going shopping, check B Lab’s online directory to see if the company has been certified. If not, B Lab’s directory makes it easy to filter companies by industry to find a sustainable replacement.
Travel green: It is no surprise that air travel has a negative impact on the climate. According to a calculator from the UN's civil aviation body, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an economy-class return flight from London to New York emits an estimated 0.67 tonnes of CO2 per passenger. This is equivalent to 11% of the average annual emissions for an individual living in the United Kingdom. When traveling, try to find a greener mode of transportation. Maybe embark on as many local trips as long distance ones so that you drive instead of fly. In addition, stay at LEED certified hotels or resorts, which is a rating system to evaluate green buildings. In regards to your everyday life, carpool, take public transportation, or even bike to work.
Reduce your carbon footprint: Minimalism challenges people to be more mindful of their shopping habits in hopes of reducing their carbon footprint. More specifically, the amount of greenhouse gas produced from an activity. While you do not need to completely alter your lifestyle, adopt a few of these greener day-to-day habits, such as shopping only at secondhand stores, eliminating the use of single-use plastics, and recycling. In return, the planet will thank you for it.
Be an impact investor: Real change will only happen if we fiscally reward companies for being sustainable. Impact investing pairs financial returns with making a difference. If you invest, give your money to companies that are ethically sound when possible. You will also benefit from being a socially responsible investor. The Economist found that sustainable funds outperformed the broader market in the United States during a major downturn.
Although one person becoming a conscious consumer cannot solve climate change, you can have a positive impact. Imagine if you lived in a house where no one did the dishes; they always thought someone else would. This concept applies to being more aware of what you buy. If everyone adopted one sustainable habit, the planet would be in a better place than it currently is. So the next time you’re going shopping, ask yourself if you really need this item. If you do, that is totally fine - but maybe it will inspire you to find a more ethical and sustainable substitute.