There are plenty of buzz words that persistently pop up, but lose meaning over time due to overuse. Along with ‘organic’, ‘fair trade’, ‘sustainability’ and ‘green’, 'conscious consumerism' may be next in line.
But to save it from that fate we should ask the question - does conscious consumerism really make a difference? First, let’s be clear on the meaning I place on this term. A 'conscious consumer' is a person who puts thought into their decisions. They are selective with their purchasing choices based on their values. They like to understand the impact of their purchasing choices on the makers of the products they buy, as well as their families, their community and the environment. Even though we are all immersed in a high consumption society, I believe we can consume what we need in a much more conscious way. There are options other than just following the herd. We can buy the blemished fruit, throw away less and choose to buy well-crafted items that we will wear over and over again, rather than cheap, poor quality goods that are mass produced.
Our single commitment to this choice may not seem to make much of a difference, but collectively we can begin to effect change to the crazy consumption habits of our throw-away society.
As reported by Global Citizen, our collective efforts could move 125 million fashion industry workers out of poverty by simply re-directing 1% of profits to their wages. That may only be an increase of 5% in prices but surely we can manage that!
The Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that one third of food produced for human consumption is wasted. That is equivalent to 1.3 billions tonnes a year. A portion of this waste may be justified in the developing world due to infrastructure and processing problems. In the developed countries such as Australia, its a little tougher to condone. Waste occurs from both consumers and retailers, the latter due to high 'appearance' requirements. You may wish to watch ABCs 'War on Waste' to learn more about this. Wasting food also means a waste of the resources used to produce it: water, labour and fertile soil.
I love being a conscious consumer! It's so satisfying to buy from people who are putting their skills to work and earning a decent living at the same time. This may be ethical handmade food products from the farmers market, upcycled fashion from a burgeoning designer, artisanally produced women's accessories, or honey direct from the beekeeper (shout out to my friend Julie from Honey in the Garden, pictured below on her property in Western Australia).
In the process of buying, we are often so far away from the maker of the product, the true value and impact of what we buy is lost. Buying ethical gifts or choosing to purchase from companies who recognise that their place in the cycle matters, addresses this. We just have to remember to pay attention.
Julie's company is a great example - the honey you buy direct from the local beekeeper helps her to support her family and contribute to the local economy in her community. It also pollinates local gardens and sustains our environment on a broader scale.
A conscious consumer is an agent of change. Actions have impact and choosing to ‘buycott’ companies and products that don't contribute to our existence in a positive way creates the social, environmental and ecological shift we want to see.
Until next time,
Photo acknowledgements in order of appearance: