"Every time you spend you are casting a vote for the kind of world you want." -Anna Lappe
Following few decades where excess consumerism was the way of living in first world countries, the minimalistic life, shaped by conscious consumerism, is making waves. Maybe it's because we can find out where our products are coming from, who is making them, and how they are having an impact on our environment, or, maybe it is because less is actually more.
Either way, conscious consumption is becoming common, especially so in the younger generations. We are likely to pay more for an item made by a local artisan, sustainably produced or giving back to a charity, and that's awesome. What isn't so awesome, is how daunting it can be to consume consciously. I decided in early 2015 to (try to) only make purchases from ethically and environmentally responsible brands, and it was tough.
I didn't quite know where to start, and when I did, I didn't know how to keep it up. I truly wanted to be a conscious consumer but found that it was challenging to find products that are actually from ethically, environmentally and socially responsible brands. Then, there is an infinite number of causes that need support, which makes it tough to choose one brand or product over another.
However, after two years of learning about everything from advertising terms to the surprising uses of palm oil, spending lots of time on hold and asking sixteen-year-old sales people where their factories are located, I'm comfortable saying that I am a more conscious consumer. Here's what it took me to get started.
I. Find a cause
Ideally, we could all buy products that are ethical, sustainable, cruelty-free and making the world more clean, fair and safe. Unfortunately, that can be a difficult, and expensive first step.
Instead of trying to conquer the world right away, choosing one cause, gaining a thorough understanding, and supporting the sh*t out of it will help us ease into conscious consumerism. As we become more informed, we can more naturally become increasingly supportive, and creative with our support.
The cause that ultimately started my journey toward being a conscious kind of person was animal welfare. Every decision I made had the intent to cause no harm to any animal, be it through my plate, with the clothing and shoes I wear, the cosmetic and health products I use or form of entertainment. From there, it began to stretch to the conservation of their habitats, and ours, and to the rights of humans everywhere. It might seem like a lot, but it didn't feel that way because I became more conscious one cause at a time, which has kept me conscious over time.
II. Do the research
Companies know that being conscious is now cool, and they will lie to make us believe in them, and their goodwill. We're hearing about green-washing and others that exaggerate, manipulate information or lie to convince their customers of something that they are not.
Fortunately, we have access to information, both at home and in-store.
At home 1. Use the internet
In this day and age everything is on the internet, regardless if it's true or not. This means that it's not what information we find, but rather how we verify, interpret and use it. So, to start off
I: Google Search Type "Is xyz company environmentally friendly, ethical, socially responsible, cruelty-free, etc". Prepare to be redirected to and read forum questions and answers, useful blog posts, and often, to official company About Us pages.
II: Go to the company's official website
Just as it is in the store, if they are an environmentally, ethically or socially responsible brand, it will be promoted or at least mentioned somewhere. Usually, searching in the About Us, or FAQ sections will prove to be useful to find company values, and gain a general idea of their level of commitment to various causes.
III: Slide into their DMs Using social media to send a direct message, tweet, or comment on a post to ask for information can often lead to a quick answer. The answers are especially quick when the comment is public and on a recent post.
IV: Cross-reference findings with standard-setting organizations Depending on the cause, we can cross-reference our findings with lists of companies whose practices meet the level ethical, environmental or social responsibility required as per governmental or organizational standards. Certain issues are regulated by the federal government, while others are closely monitored by non-governmental organizations, and here are a few useful sites. (Fill: List of websites where responsible companies are listed)
2. Call the organization
OK yes, calling people can be scary to those of us who grew up texting, but it is a way to get sh*t done. I've done this for a few cosmetic companies and coffee shops, and they've been able to provide answer questions that couldn't be answered in store, and share information that either wasn't clear or made publicly available online.
1. Read labels
Despite labels being minuscule, they can tell us a whole lot. We can learn what went into the product, where it is made and manufactured, and where the company is based. Typically, if a company has headquarters in one country, but imports its materials or manufactures the product in another country, it is neither environmentally, ethically or socially responsible.
Depending on the type of product, there might be logos on it or on the packaging that can help us determine if the company has some sort of certification (Organic materials or ingredients, environmentally sustainable, cruelty-free) or is a member of a wider organization, such as 1% for the planet.
2. Ask the sales people
Generally, brands that are responsible will shout it out to the world - so, unless the salesperson is new to the job, if they are unaware of the true nature of the brand's practices, there's either nothing worth mentioning or something better left unsaid.
III. Thrift, buy second-hand & shop consignment pieces
If in doubt, second-hand anything is typically better than going to the store. We're giving a second life to something that has already been produced and would likely end up in a landfill or ocean anyway.
Beyond the bigger and more well-known second-hand stores (ValueVillage, Salvation Army) there are consignment stores, flea markets, and community garage sales but, in the age of technology, online sites (Ebay, Kijiji), apps (VarageSale, Carousel) as well as Facebook groups (Buns, Trading) and Instagram accounts are likely to lead to hidden treasures.
In Ottawa, PreLoved Ottawa is amazing for second-hand clothing, accessories and shoes. Either check-out their carefully curated Instagram or website.