Have you ever stopped and asked yourself where your clothes or food came from? I'm not talking about which Forever 21 location you went to or which grocery store you frequent. Do you know what your clothing or food is made of? Do you know how it's made and the environmental or humanitarian impacts of that process? Do you even need to buy that fringe handbag you picked up while rushing over to the shoe section?
Conscious consumers ask themselves these questions and more before making every purchase because they believe that every dollar spent is a vote for healthier people and a healthier planet. That means only purchasing products that align with these values or choosing not to purchase at all. That also means requiring transparency from companies and holding government officials accountable for environmental and humanitarian policies that pertain to businesses. Conscious consumers understand that we are all consumers. Yet, do not buy into our current societal model of mindless over-consumption. We live in a growing disposable culture. Natural resources, including people, are used up to produce cheaply made products that end up in the landfill where they remain way longer than they were actually used. Have you ever heard the complaint, "I can't wear that again it's on my Instagram already"! Fast fashion retailers are skilled at fostering this type of culture. Every week there is a new collection brilliantly displayed in storefront windows. What was a two season fashion cycle is now a 52 season cycle. And, it's all so cheap! Independence Day is coming. You must have that new star spangled striped shirt that's on the mannequin right? Even if you only intend to wear it for just one day. Heck. You have to have the one in the storefront next door too. Who cares if that shirt sits in your closet because you realized you don't like wearing stripes but it was too cheap to worry about returning it.
Conscious consumers care about the life cycle of a product. Every purchase takes into consideration the raw materials used to make the product, the transportation method used to ship it, it's reusability, and the way it will decompose after it's used. From larger purchases like vehicles to smaller purchases like paper cups, it's important to consider the impact each product has from beginning to end. For example, a typical paper cup starts out as trees which are cut down for pulp causing deforestation. Large amounts of water and energy are used to form pulp into bleached paper. Next, paper cups are typically coated with plastic (to allow them to hold hot liquids) before making it to store shelves and coffeeshops where they'll be used once before being tossed into the trash. That paper cup can take up to 20 years to decompose at the landfill where it releases methane, a greenhouse gas more harmful than carbon dioxide. Conscious consumers see this wasteful pattern and instead opt to bring their own reusable cups to coffeeshops.
This lifestyle change may not seem simple since it affects so many aspects of your life. Yet, the reasoning behind this thoughtful switch couldn't be simpler. Conscious consumers make purchase decisions based on whether or not a product has an overall positive impact on people and the planet. Yes, that requires asking more questions and doing your research. Luckily, we live in a time where being a conscious consumer is becoming easier. Due to the internet and real-time technology we can find a company's sustainability policy on their website or contact them by typing into a chat box. Shoot! We can even instant message them on Facebook messenger if we wanted to. We can chose to shop at second hand stores which are overflowing with goods from society's over-consumption all too often with tags still attached. Or, purchase the environmentally friendly substitute product. And, let us not forget, there's always the option to not purchase at all. See if you can you reuse or repurpose something else for the task or occasion you were shopping for. Can you borrow from or swap with a friend? There's more often than not another option to purchasing conventionally mass produced products.
Shopping consciously is for everyone. The key is realizing that it's not about switching over consumption from cheap and trendy to expensive and socially aware. It's about examining your pattern of consumption, questioning the need, then recognizing and eliminating areas of waste and/ or harmfulness toward the planet and it's people. It's a mental switch not a financial switch.
Shopping consciously may make you uncomfortable. That may sound silly. However, you'll probably be appalled once you realize how much you have not known as a consumer and how much you had not bothered to question.
Shopping consciously can begin now. Take a look at our 10 Simple Steps to Sustainable Living for easy, every day lifestyle changes you can implement now. Before making a next purchase start researching the industry, company, and/ or product itself.
To get you started, I've compiled reading and watching materials on topics related to being a conscious consumer. I don't have all the answers but these experts have done the research and taken the time to present it in easily digested forms:
Listen as leaders in fashion, health, beauty, and lifestyle share expertise on how we can become more conscious in different areas of our life. Learn how, together, we can have a more sustainable future. Each interview is 30-60 minutes long and will be offered for free June 19th -21st. Or, you can purchase the bundle of 20+ interviews for $28 benefitting My Clothes My World.
This groundbreaking documentary film tells an untold, often unwanted story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing? It’s about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. Footage takes us into sweat shop factories and onto runways weaving a full picture of where clothing comes from. The film is free on Netflix or their website in many different languages!
Elizabeth Cline digs into fast fashion and how it has changed the way Americans not only shop but live. The book tries to answer several questions about the fashion industry. What are they (the fashion industry) doing to us, our society, our environment, and our economic well-being? Get the e-book here.
This full-feature length documentary sheds light on the agricultural industry and its detrimental effects on the environment. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, and habitat loss. Yet it's never talked about in mainstream media. Get the facts here.
That's just a start. Being a conscious consumer means constantly questioning and learning to make purchasing decisions that reduce the use of natural resources and waste while empowering healthy communities. I'm not talking about loving fashion less or eating foods you dislike. I'm talking about loving fashion and food more. So much more that you appreciate the whole life cycle. I'm talking about appreciating the makers and the resources used to make the product. And, why not? No matter how far removed from us the process may seem once we have the information we can no longer consciously be unaware of what our purchases contribute to.