So you want to be a more conscious consumer, but you’re overwhelmed by the options, the information, the time required, and the latest news on what's recyclable! You're not alone. Here are some tools to help.
Where to focus your energy?
Staying conscious requires time and energy. If you feel overwhelmed by all that you want to shift in your life and in the world, take a breather and just focus on high-impact consumer industries.
High-impact consumer industries:
1) produce frequently-purchased goods.
2) use standard practices that have a negative impact on the planet, people, and other animals.
3) have less harmful alternatives available, but they are not yet the norm.
What's interesting to you?
What consumer industries are YOU interested in? If you like fashion, dive deeper into fashion and learn about the most humane ways to express yourself. If you're big into cooking, lean into how you can have a positive impact with your food choices. Are you a tech wiz? Become a champion for making tech last! Sustainable change comes when we find ways to spend more energy with what we already like AND deepen our understanding of what brings us fulfillment.
Our standard systems of food (over)production, animal agriculture, and organic material disposal are huge contributors to emissions, land and water usage, rainforest and habitat depletion, and animal suffering (1). Two invigorating ways to contribute less to these harms: shift toward plant-based eating and reduce food waste. HELPFUL RESOURCES
The fast fashion industry contributes to carbon emissions, resource depletion, textile waste, water and microplastic pollution, demand for cheap and forced labor, and—depending on the material—animal suffering (2). Solutions like buying less and shopping second-hand can be better for your bottom line, too. HELPFUL RESOURCES
Electronics & Appliances
Electronics are becoming the fastest-growing waste stream in the world (3). Their production raises demand for unfair and volatile mineral mining practices and their disposal leaks toxic substances. Finding alternatives in this fast-moving market is a bit trickier, but we can support refurbish and repair companies and bills that target planned obsolescence, which both reduce new production. HELPFUL RESOURCES
Household & Beauty
Household cleaners and personal hygiene products are often packaged in single-use plastics and contain harmful microbeads and chemicals (4). And, while more companies are shifting away from animal testing thanks to consumer demand, it's not yet obsolete. Many alternatives are available in this space (and super trendy, so wash out for greenwashing!). HELPFUL RESOURCES
We can't always expect our learned behaviors and habits to change upon learning something new. Lasting change happens deeper in the mind and body, and it requires patience.
An article in the Journal of Marketing offers a framework of five psychological factors that can S.H.I.F.T. consumers toward making eco-friendly purchases (5). The framework is meant to help marketers influence consumer behavior, but what if we reclaim agency and reflect on the framework ourselves to make our own behavioral shifts? Grab your journal and respond to the following prompts!
Social influence: What social inputs influence you as a consumer?
Habit formation: What consumer habits would you like to form or deepen?
Individual self: Which values do you most want to embody in your consumer choices?
Feelings & cognition: How do you want your purchases to make you feel?
Tangibility: How can you be more connected to the impact of your purchases?
Conscious consumerism looks different on us all
We all enter the conscious consumer process from different lives and levels of impact. We also have different solutions available to us, depending on economic status, family, health, location, access, privilege, etc.
Conscious consumers share a mindset of thinking about why and what we purchase, and that mindset manifests into different actions through each of our life lenses.
We have to extend grace to ourselves when the available solutions aren’t perfect. We have to extend grace to others. That’s the only way this work becomes collective and sustainable.
Leverage points for change
Changing personal habits can feel like a small solution to a big problem. Still, these habits influence demand, inspire others, and allow us to act in accordance with our values, alleviating cognitive dissonance. Keep that in mind, even while you accept that...
Sometimes changing a personal habit is not an available–or even most impactful–leverage point.
We can also look for consumer leverage points outside of our daily habits and partake in collective solutions like emailing companies, boycotting, supporting effective change organizations, educating friends, and voting on policy. In the works on Conscious Consumer: More resources to help us get involved in collective action!
Sources and inspirations
(1) “Animal Agriculture: How Bad Is It for Climate Change and the Environment?” Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, https://ffacoalition.org/articles/animal-agriculture-environment/, Published December 2021 (2) "Putting the Breaks on Fast Fashion," UNEP, https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/putting-brakes-fast-fashion, Published November 2018 (3) “Helping Communities Manage Electronic Waste,” EPA, https://www.epa.gov/sciencematters/helping-communities-manage-electronic-waste, Published June 2021 (4) “Environmental Impact of Cosmetics & Beauty Products,” TRVST, https://www.trvst.world/sustainable-living/environmental-impact-of-cosmetics/, Published October, 2021 (5) "How to SHIFT Consumer Behaviors to be More Sustainable: A Literature Review and Guiding Framework." Katherine White, Rishad Habib, David J. Hardisty, SAGE Journals, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0022242919825649, Published 14 Feb. 2019.