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What Is Conscious Consumerism & How Can Buying Better Shape A Better Tomorrow?

There is no doubt that consumption is a part of our daily lives, and most of the time it is unavoidable. Conscious or not, we are all consumers in our own way. Only in the rare case of you living somewhere far far away, where you grow your own food, build your own house and appliances, grow your own cotton and make your own clothes, maybe then you would not need to consume as much – and kudos to you for being self-sustained. For the majority of us though, it is such an inevitable part of the way we live. Therefore, it raises the question of why not vote with our wallets for the kind of world we want to live in?  

Table Of Contents
Is Consumption Bad? What Can We Do About It?
The Rising of Conscious Consumerism
What is Conscious Consumerism?
Conscious Consumerism and Mindful Living
Conscious Consumerism and Minimalism
Impacts of Conscious Consumerism: Does it really make a difference?
Where to start: How to become a more conscious consumer?
Before you go, I want you to know that…

Is Consumption Bad? What Can We Do About It?

Consumption is not necessarily a bad thing, but overconsumption, and buying from companies that we do not know anything about, are both costing us more than we can pay for. They are costing us our planet and our people. Overconsumption is eating away our planet’s resources. Earth Overshoot Day, which is the day when we use up all of the year’s resources for that given year, indicates that we need at least 1.6 Earths to meet our current demands.

When we buy from a company or a business that is harming the planet or causing injustice to other co-equal humans or animals, we are encouraging them to continue doing business as usual. We are actually supporting them and giving them our “approval” vote. When they have that, there would be no need for them to change their current practices, because why should they if they are still making money?

Fortunately, in the past few years, consumers started to have a growing inclination towards buying better – and the reason is that they are being more informed, and more invested in social, environmental, and ethical issues. Thanks to social media, people are becoming more aware of the harsh realities related to the products they consume.

Whether it is destroying our nature and contributing to climate change or the underpayment, exploitation, and unsafe working conditions that workers are exposed to. In addition, some companies are still testing on animals and exploiting them, although technology has made it very possible and affordable to ditch animal testing altogether. Nowadays, it is also easier to avoid using animal-derived ingredients in the products we use and wear; not to inflict any more harm.

We have purchasing power that we can use for the better good, and you are much more powerful than you think you are. Every penny you spend is an investment towards the upsurge of ethical companies in your community. We have the responsibility of rewarding those that are doing good and holding accountable those that are doing bad.

The Rising of Conscious Consumerism

According to a report held by GlobalData, roughly 70% of the world population is reducing meat consumption or cutting it off altogether. The reason for that is: they are becoming more aware of how carbon-intensive animal agriculture is, more aware of the inhumane practices of the meat, fish, and dairy industries towards the animals, and more educated about how these industries are exploiting and destroying our nature. 

When it comes to buying behavior, according to this survey by First Insights, 62% of Gen Zs and Millennials prefer to buy from sustainable brands. People want to buy from companies that reflect the same values as them. No doubt that companies that showcase their honest social responsibility appeal to us. It may be because we feel more related to them, or maybe we feel that we want to partake in the impact and goodness they are trying to bring about.

It is believed that the notion of conscious consumerism dates back to the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 2010s that it gained wide popularity and adoption, especially among the Millennials. They became more aware and educated about the impact of the products they buy. Afterwards, Generation Z joined the movement and are pushing even harder; they may even be leading the way now. 

When the pandemic happened, it accelerated the trend of making better choices in general. There are many studies that show that there’s a growing demand for sustainable and purposeful brands and products and a growing interest in plant-based alternatives as well. Consumers are now more likely to be more conscious of their choices and they are ready to support businesses and companies that are good and do good, companies that put their impact on the environment and people into consideration. You can read more about this in this survey by McKinsey.

If you consider yourself as someone who cares about global issues, e.g. the environment and climate change, women’s rights, human rights, inclusivity, fair pay, various social justice issues, animal welfare, or any issue at all as a matter of fact, your consumption habits can either support this issue or can make it worse. 

It is a huge privilege to have the “freedom” of choosing the products, the companies, and brands one decides to buy from, and a great responsibility too. Let us use this privilege in changing the current world as we know it, because we owe it to our planet, and the people who are most impacted by all of this. And as you guessed it, in most cases, they do not have the same privileges as others do. 

It is always the most vulnerable that are impacted the utmost by the corporates’ irresponsibilities and our poor choices. They are the ones paying the price. Sometimes, we need to remember that we share this world with others and that our choices have an impact. We’re on this ship together. This article will help you make better choices that allow you to contribute in shaping the kind of world you want to live in.

Subsequently, how do we do this? How do we start taking care of our planet, as well as, other people and animals sharing this planet with us? Do we stop buying at all? The short answer is no. We do not stop buying at all, we cannot stop buying at all, but we can indeed buy less, and buy better. This is what conscious consumerism is all about. Thus, stick with me through this article as I take you through what conscious consumerism means and how to start becoming more conscious and mindful in your consumption habits.

What is Conscious Consumerism?

Conscious consumerism occurs when our consumption habits are defined by making mindful purchases, whilst taking into consideration social, environmental, and ethical values. It is basically hoping that your purchase does more good than bad. You become a conscious consumer when you make the conscious choice of buying from companies that consider these values throughout their whole supply chain and business model while boycotting companies that exploit other humans, animals, or this earth’s precious resources. 

Being a conscious consumer means you are very mindful of the kinds of products you buy, the brands you choose to buy from, the companies you support, and it also means thinking very thoughtfully about where it all goes afterwards. Again, you would want to reward those companies that drive a positive impact and boycott those that have unethical practices. That means we need continuous learning and ongoing curiosity.

In short, when a socially or environmentally conscious consumer wants to make a choice, they tend to consider 4 things: 

  • Ask themselves whether it is necessary and urgent or not 
  • Differentiate between what is considered a want and what is considered a need
  • Educate themselves about companies that provide this product
  • Evaluate these provider companies based on their ethicality and sustainability, as well as, the overall impact of the product’s production, manufacturing, and delivery

If this company has a positive impact, they make the purchase. And if the negative impact outweighs the positive, they avoid that company. There are many helpful online tools and apps that evaluate companies for us and make it easier to make a decision. Good On You is one of them.

Conscious Consumerism and Mindful Living

Some people find themselves on a path to live a more mindful and a more intentional life. They want to live their values. Take me as an example, I started gradually seeking meaning and purpose behind every action I take. I reflected on what my values are and decided to stay true to them.  Then I slowly became more aware of my surroundings and the impact of my choices, in the different aspects of life. Without even realizing it, (okay I realized it and took an intentional decision) I became a more conscious consumer. Now, it comes naturally with this lifestyle choice. 

For me, it just makes sense that being conscious about our shopping choices can indeed help us lead a more purposeful life that is aligned with our values. It means that we would no longer act on impulse, but rather be very aware (aka conscious) of our choices. It could be our first step towards a very deep and a very meaningful journey towards a slower, more intentional, and more mindful living. 

In conclusion, conscious consumerism goes hand in hand with mindful living, and it is something we need to educate ourselves on if we want to start living such a mindful and intentional life. 

Conscious Consumerism and Minimalism

Minimalism is a buzzword that we hear every now and then, and it is essentially a lifestyle choice where you live with less and declutter your life in order to give more space for things that matter to you. It means removing distractions and ridding ourselves from the passion to possess and accumulate more items day in and day out. In that sense, minimalism encourages you to only buy products that you actually need, things that serve your purpose.

Marie Kondo tells us to declutter our house and only keep things that “spark joy” to us. Her Konmari technique helped many people find happiness internally by removing distractions and “stuff” that are external. After doing so, you will thoroughly think about a purchase before making it, which means you will eventually only be surrounded by the things you actually “love”. In other words, you will make a conscious choice.  

Minimalists usually look for items that last for years, because quality comes before quantity. And buying less is in itself an act of conscious consumerism. Buying better and buying for longevity are essential for conscious consumerism. We can start to think about where this product will go after we are done with it. Is it timeless? Is it recyclable? Can it be donated or sold to someone else? Can it be upcycled into something else?

Impacts of Conscious Consumerism: Does it really make a difference?

You might think, “how can one individual change the world?”, and to this, I will answer. One person cannot, but collectively, when many individuals start demanding the same thing, the companies would have no choice but to listen. In fact, they are already listening and responding to those demands. Because adding up to each other’s actions and choices, our purchasing power has the ability to force the brands to act upon our, aka consumers’, demands. 

Don’t believe me? Well, according to the Governance & Accountability Institute (G&A), in 2011, only 20% of S&P 500 companies were publishing their sustainability reports that reflected their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) information, which made it really hard for the consumers to find the information they need. But with more demand from consumers for transparency, and their growing desire to engage with companies that prioritise sustainability, and with conscious consumerism gaining more popularity and momentum – by 2019, the number of S&P 500 companies publishing their sustainability reports jumped to 90% (!!!), that means 9 out of every 10 companies are more transparent about their ESG information. So, yes, they are listening.

Thanks to the Millennials and Gen Zs, who care about values, ethics, and global issues, there are some notable changes that are taking place in the fashion industry, which was left in an identity crisis after all of its wrongdoings were brought to light. We are able to spot more eco-friendly products on the shelves as well, and companies are getting more and more involved in social and environmental issues. Not to mention, the noticeable change in the growing availability of plant-based options in the grocery stores (and in some countries, fast food chains as well).

All of these changes would not have occurred if it was not for the growing demands of the younger generations. You can read more about how Millennials and Gen Zs are changing how and what we buy here

Where to start: How to become a more conscious consumer?

But, Nada, you still haven’t told me how to start becoming a conscious consumer. No worries, I gotchu, we’re finally at the part where I make it easier for you to start right away. Grab your notebook or a piece of paper and something to write with. Or simply open a new blank note on your phone or laptop.

First off, you would need to ask yourself “What are my values? What do I stand for and cherish the most?” And upon answering these questions, you will find yourself more self-aware and you will find a growing passion towards staying true to your values.

And then you go about and ask yourself, “Which movements and global issues do I care about and advocate for the most?” Whether you care about climate change, animal rights, gender equality, social justice, fair working conditions to all workers in the supply chain, or the growth of the economy. Maybe  you are against having toxins in household products, garments, and/or in the food we eat. And perhaps you are like me and you care about (almost) all of these things. 

After you answer these questions, you will have a clearer sense of the kind of companies you want to engage with, most probably they will be ones that do something for one or more of the previous issues. Now is the time to be even more curious and ask yourself these questions as well: 

  • How much do I know about the companies I buy from? 
  • How much do I buy from companies that I know are sourcing from elsewhere, exploiting other people and/or earth’s resources? 
  • How do I feel about that?
  • Am I able to change that behavior? If not, what else can I do?

It is important to answer these questions, because when you know your “why?”, your why will always point you and guide you towards the right direction, it will be your compass. Does not matter how fast or how slow you go, as long as you’re on the right path. And accordingly, you will have a reason to fight and to keep going, and your choices will always be worth it. 

We need to stay curious and stay educated. Ignorance is bliss but when issues are brought to our attention, it is hard to ignore them. We can read more about the injustices that the workers face, watch documentaries about the issues we care about, and learn more about the companies we want/don’t want to support. Take an action, no matter how small. It matters.

Something that could help you as well is noticing your social media feeds – are you following brands and influencers that are constantly telling you to buy more? Do you feel that you want more things and that you do not have enough because of this constant exposure and pressure? Well, something that has helped me A LOT in making the shift was that I unfollowed all of the accounts that were not doing me any good and started being mindful and conscious about who I follow on social media

I started following more and more advocates of sustainable living and those who speak up and prioritize the people and the planet, and ultimately, people who make better and more conscious choices themselves as well. I followed them to educate myself more and to normalize the idea that having less is actually having more, to be inspired to change current behaviors, and to learn more about which brands are ethical, sustainable, and/or cruelty free.

Before you go, I want you to know that…

It is totally okay to make mistakes and be imperfect, because of course nobody is perfect. It is what makes us human. We are all making mistakes every single day and learning from them. It is important to start from wherever you are now and take it from there. You do not have to turn your life upside down overnight. 

When somethings is not affordable or accessible to you, that means it is not sustainble for you yet. Some of the challenges to conscious consumerism still remain: affordability, accessibility, corporate irresponsibility, health matters, and disabilities. Sustainable, ethical, and eco-friendly products should be affordable and accessible to everyone, not just to people who can afford them. It is everyone’s right.

It is not all or nothing. Sometimes we might buy from companies we do not want to support, could be because they’re the most affordable option for us or any other reason we may have. Instead of feeling guilty or deciding that conscious consumerism is not for us, we can use our voices to ask them to do better. We can use our voices to demand change. 

There are many things that we can do to make this world a better place, and making conscious individual choices is just one of them. There is just so much to be done. Stay curious, keep learning, and keep growing.

The key is to always be kind to yourself during this journey. Reading this article means that you care, be proud of that as a first step. 

With that, I will leave you. Stay tuned for my next article sharing specific and actionable ways to become a more conscious consumer, I’m hoping that it could be an ultimate guide for you. Until next time.

About Nada Emad

Just your average girl who happens to care a lot about planet earth and its inhabitants. An imperfect activist and advocate who believes in social and environmental justice and the importance of mental health and overall wellbeing.

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