5 Ways to Be a Conscious Consumer

This is a guest post from Nivi Achanta. Nivi is a social entrepreneur and founder of Soapbox Project. Soapbox sends you weekly bite-sized action plans, giving you the easiest tool to fight climate change. Nivi’s mission, through her personal life and Soapbox, is to make you feel like you belong in social and environmental justice movements! 

It’s almost 2021, which means two things for sure. One, we’re marking the end to this firestorm of a year. Two, we’re starting a new year—and you’re soon going to have resolutions on your mind.

With the climate changing more dramatically than ever, maybe you’ve decided to start playing a more active part. Or maybe, with everything that’s changed as a result of COVID, you’re questioning your relationship with material things. Or maybe both!

My resolution for 2020 was to stop buying fast fashion. The past few months kicked off a revolution inside my mind. I was ready to become a conscious consumer. If you’re ready to explore being a conscious consumer, here are a few tips to get you started.

What is a conscious consumer?

“Conscious consumption is an umbrella term that simply means engaging in the economy with more awareness of how your consumption impacts society at large. Shopping sustainably, with the intent to preserve the environment, is one way to consume more consciously.” – The New York Times

I define a conscious consumer as someone who thinks critically about their social and environmental impacts. I strongly believe our role in society should be valued beyond purchasing power alone, but rethinking the way we consume is a great place to start.

Being a conscious consumer is just one small part of fighting climate change or making an impact on social issues. We have to keep our eyes on the prize of systemic change, using our voice for political and civic decision making as well. But using our voices in the way we buy is a great place to start.

Let’s begin!

Tip 1: Buy less

The best news about your decision to be a conscious consumer is that you’re going to save a lottt of money. It turns out that buying less is easier than it seems. My most important “buy less” resources are free, secondhand, and long-term purchases. We’ll get into secondhand and long-term down this list, but to get free items, there are resources like Olio. Olio is a great app for sharing food and other household items with your neighbors—they have a statement on their response to COVID on their website if you’re wondering how that works.

Tip 2: Buy secondhand

“Shopping secondhand displaces the need for new clothing production and diverts items from landfills. Buying one used item reduces its carbon, waste, and water footprints by 82%.”ThredUp

Buying secondhand is a huge deal, especially when it comes to fashion. According to Business Insider, the fashion industry emits more carbon than international flights and maritime shipping combined, and it produces ~10% of humanity’s carbon emissions.

Secondhand shopping is one of the best ways to reduce your environmental impact, plus you get nice things for way cheaper! As well as shopping from secondhand sites, you can try swapping with friends or other fans of the brands you love. (GlobeIn tip: the Mavens Facebook Community is a great place to swap or purchase your favorite GlobeIn items secondhand.)

Tip 3: Invest in the long-term

The sustainability movement often gets a bad reputation for being prohibitively expensive.

Of course, if you buy less or buy secondhand, this isn’t the case. If you’re buying new, it’s still not as pricey as it looks. Sustainable products are often higher upfront investments, but that’s because they save you a lot of money down the road. Here are two examples I’ve found in my own life, in 2020 alone:

  1. I used to spend around $7 bucks a month on pads and tampons, which is almost $85 a year. I was hesitant to switch to a menstrual cup because it was $30 (instead of $7) and I just wasn’t sure if I’d like it. Now that I’ve switched, though, I’m set for the next few years… as opposed to spending $85 every year since I was 12.
  2. I’d always wanted to shop for produce at the farmers market instead of grocery stores, but it was always so much cheaper at the store. I finally decided to start doing produce shopping at the farmer’s market, and I found one huge hack: herb plants! I was finding myself spending $3 every week at the grocery store for a fresh box of basil, and often times, it would go bad. Now, I have a basil plant from the farmers market I’ve been tending to for months. The plant itself was $3.

There are so many other sustainability swaps that will benefit you in the long-term. I recommend investing in reusable, using Tupperware instead of plastic wrap/ziplocs, buying a safety razor for your shaving needs, and making sure to take cloth produce bags with you to the grocery store. Just find everyday places in your life where you can make a swap!

If you need some ideas either for yourself or a friend/family member, here are 50 eco-friendly gifts for the 2020 holiday season.

Tip 4: Shop ethical, not just sustainable

Sustainability and conscious consumption isn’t just about your carbon footprint. It’s also about using your purchasing and consumption power to make the world a more equitable place for everyone.

This can mean:

  • Buying from POC- and indigenous-owned businesses. Shop Latinx has a really cool marketplace!
  • Getting your next coffee or meal from a Black-owned restaurant. After 2020’s Black Lives Matter protests, online creators were quick to post about how you can find these in your community, so all you have to do is Google it!
  • Reading books you’ve purchased from an independent local bookstore, especially during COVID
  • Making sure the places you eat and shop treat their employees fairly and don’t employ prison or sweatshop labor. Slavery still exists in the United States through prison labor and private companies can increase their profit margins by employing incarcerated people.
  • Buying handmade artisan goods to support a stable income for those in developing communities, like you can do with GlobeIn!

Tip 5: Repair your things!

This is something people forget about. Conscious consumerism isn’t just about the moment of purchase; it’s about the whole lifecycle of using the thing you’ve bought so it doesn’t end up in a landfill, contributing further to adverse climate effects.

Companies like Patagonia offer lifetime repair warranty to encourage you to keep the things you buy. You can also fix stuff up yourself a lot easier than you might think. Pinterest, and now TikTok, are full of DIY repairs and projects you can do.

Lastly, remember that being a conscious consumer is an extremely important step of your sustainability journey, but it’s just one puzzle piece of the fight against climate change! If you’re looking for more easy and fun ways to be sustainable, sign up for Changeletter—we give you free weekly action plans that take ~2 minutes on average to read.