How can I be a responsible consumer (and citizen)?
Updated: Mar 19, 2021
“Why did I buy that?”
It’s a regret-filled question you may have asked yourself before. We’ve all been there! We are bombarded with advertisements and in a culture of ‘buy, buy buy’ and it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment (and let’s face it, shopping can be a nice escape from daily life in a pandemic..)
But very few of us know where all the stuff we buy actually comes from and how it was made. Textiles production accounts for 20% of global waste-water and 10% of greenhouse gas emissions alone. When it comes to food it’s even worse - we dispose of one-third of all the food we produce globally. That’s not even looking into the human rights violations harming marginalized people who are already more susceptible to harm from climate change. It’s not a pretty picture right now.
So what can we do to make this better? Wouldn’t it be great to balance our shopping impulses with our desires for a more planet-friendly lifestyle? Here are some practical tips to help you transition to a more conscientious consumer!
We know this probably sounds easier than it actually is in practice but hear us out! Try out this rule of thumb whenever new seasonal clothing drops or an Instagram ad seems really appealing: Whatever you want to buy, make a note of it (online or in-person), and then don’t revisit the item for a full 48 hours.
By taking the impulsivity out of it, most often, you’ll forget about the purchase you were so desperate to make in the moment! Taking the time to be more thoughtful about the goods we purchase helps us make better decisions for ourselves and for the planet.
Another method is to ask yourself honestly before you purchase something:
Do I really need this?
Could I rent or borrow this same item from someone I know instead?
Will purchasing this item make me happier than actually using it?
If you can, give yourself another 48 hours or a break before coming back to your potential purchase and asking yourself these three questions again.
The good news is that supply chains and corporate sustainability stats are becoming more and more transparent. There is a load of free resources online that you can take advantage of such as the Fashion Transparency Index which looks at how fashion brands are living up to their sustainability pledges and Free2Work which profiles sustainable businesses.
If you are buying food, buy organic, low meat, and local whenever possible. You can also check to see if the brands are certified through organisations such as Fair Trade and B Corporation that measure the work that the companies are actually putting in for ethical treatment of workers, sustainable practices, and responsible manufacturing and sourcing of products.
Campaign for Workers Rights
Surely a brand or an item can not be considered to be sustainably made if the workers who make it are suffering. Many garment workers are forced to work an average of 14 to 16 hours a day and the wage that they earn comes in between half to a fifth of the living wage (aka the bare minimum required for filling needs such as rent, food, and healthcare.) Worker safety and labor rights are crucial to lessening emissions and the effects of climate change around the world and ensuring a dignified life for everyone.
Feeling a bit overwhelmed? A great place to start learning more and organizing is the International Labor Rights Forum online. Clean Clothes is also a fantastic organisation that is focused on improving working conditions in the global garment industry. If you’re looking to read up more on the topic, “No Logo” by Naomi Klein was released in 1999 but the criticism of unfettered consumerism and capitalism in the book remains true today.
Involve your Friends
It’s so much more motivating to take on a challenge with a friend or a loved one and becoming a responsible consumer is no different. And community involvement really does make a difference! One study showed that when community organisers installed solar panels on their houses, they were able to recruit 63% more residents to do the same than the community organisers who did not install solar panels on their own homes.
Friends are also a great resource for sharing and holding yourself accountable! Looking for a dress for a new event? Check with your friends to see if someone has one that fits you rather than buying a dress you’ll only wear once. Thinking of trying clothes swapping? There's an app for that (of course!), take a look at Nuw or CLOTHESfriends!
Try taking on a 2 week “no new purchases” challenge together. Having a teammate can make the tough moments easier and allow for some more creative brainstorming and collaboration when you feel like you’re getting stuck.
We’ve hoped to help with a little guidance on how to change your mindset from one that makes impulse purchases to one that emphasizes long-term benefits for yourself, other people, and the planet!
How have you cut down on consumption in your life? We’d love to hear your advice! Join the conversation via our Instagram channel, or say hi to the team at firstname.lastname@example.org