The terms ‘Conscious consumerism’, ‘Ethical Consumerism’, ‘conscious lifestyles’ and ‘conscious living’ are becoming more widespread, but what exactly do they mean?
A great definition I’ve found comes from Jaya Ramchadini on Medium.
“A conscious consumer is an agent of change who considers the social, environmental, ecological, and political impact of their buycott and boycott actions.”Jaya Ramchadini
Essentially then, we are referring to the growing number of people who are becoming clearer about their personal values and caring enough to question the methods, materials and systems behind the products and services we consume on a daily basis.
Indeed, there are few excuses anymore to be unaware of the wider consequences that our daily choices have on our planet and the humans, animals and all living organisms that inhabit it with us.
Whether it’s child labour in sweatshops, air pollution through fossil fuels, the mass scale cruelty and murder of animals for food and clothes, or the killing of our oceans through plastic and sewage, humans have been blazing a trail of callous destruction on planet Earth for some time now. Most notably since the 20th century when mass production really began to gather pace and we became ever greedier in our pursuit of more, faster.
Just to give a few examples, experts estimate that:
- 218 million children work, many of them full-time. (United Nations)
- An estimated 8 million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in our oceans every year, not only wiping out all ocean life, but also poisoning the humans that eat it. (Parley)
- Nearly 70 million barrels of oil are used each year to make the world’s polyester, the most commonly used fiber in our clothing. But it takes more than 200 years to decompose. (Forbes)
- It takes 20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton; equivalent to a single t-shirt and pair of jeans. (WWF)
And while most even-minded people are appalled by such a list, in one way or another each of us are complicit in perpetuating them.
Maybe not through a deliberate desire to damage and hurt, but by the nature of existing in a capitalist society. The manufacturing processes, the norms, habits and structure of everyday existence have been built around convenience and industries’ desire for profit. In practically any business operating in a capitalist economy the goal is to reduce costs wherever possible to generate the highest possible surplus profit, regardless of the wider environmental and social costs of those actions.
This is true of pretty much our entire food supply, the clothes we buy, household products, literally almost everything. And with most of this careless cost cutting hidden away in far off countries or behind slaughterhouse doors, and then completely glossed over by slick branding and alluring, disingenuous advertising, it has become difficult for even the most well-intentioned among us to uphold a lifestyle that is genuinely in-tune with their values – even when people think they’re making better choices, like buying free-range eggs, or grass-fed beef.
Fortunately, thanks to the rapid increase in availability of information on the Internet, social media, and widely available documentaries, more and more people’s eyes are being opened to the truth behind this world of destruction and cruelty.
Also, happily, a growing number of more ethical businesses are popping up that prioritise sustainability and lack of cruelty above the drive for profit, giving consumers like you and I more choice and more possibility to take actions that better match our beliefs.
And that, in a nutshell, is conscious or ethical consumerism
To revisit the earlier definition:
“A conscious consumer is an agent of change who considers the social, environmental, ecological, and political impact of their buycott and boycott actions.”
For example, if you fundamentally believe it is cruel to mistreat children then you would come to the conclusion that you won’t buy Nike products, because the US sports company have yet to prove that they don’t profit from the use of sweatshops. Instead, use an app like Good on You to find a more socially and environmentally conscious apparel producer. Or consider whether you really need to buy new clothes at all.
If you would never willfully harm an animal then question whether you want to consume any animal products, including dairy and eggs – the production processes for which are horrifically cruel, unnatural, distressing and harmful to the animals involved. Instead, try some of the amazingly delicious and nutrient-dense dairy alternatives available these days, and enjoy experimenting with a broader range of flavours, such as discovering how delicious porridge tastes with coconut milk.
If you love the oceans and sealife, then question how much plastic you are using and be aware just how long that plastic Coke bottle will remain on this planet for after the 30 minutes of use you get out of it. Instead, carry your own refillable bottle, or buy and return glass bottles.
Conscious consumption is being aware of the broader impacts of every choice we make, and instead choosing kinder alternatives that are more in line with our values as kind human beings.
Sound like something you want to get behind?
Then next read my piece on 6 ways to be a more conscious or ethical consumer.