It wasn’t until I had children that I really started to think about the products and food I was buying and consuming.
I wanted to know what I was putting on my babies’ skin and in their bodies. I wanted to know what type of material their tiny little clothes were made from and was contained in their diaper cream and baby shampoo.
Honestly, this process was illuminating and a bit concerning at times. While I assumed the powers that be are looking out for us in terms of the quality and standards around products and food, I was surprised by some of the ingredients that are considered okay.
Similarly, while it’s nice to think that every company supports adequate working conditions, fair pay, and environmental practices – when I started to do some research I found that this is not always the case.
For me, having children was the catalyst that pushed me towards becoming a more conscious consumer. I really started to think about what I was buying, where it was coming from, and the values of the company I was supporting. And I’m not alone in this. More and more people are moving away from blind consumerism and towards a more deliberate and informed way of consuming.
Read on to find out what conscious consumerism is, why it’s important, and how you can begin to implement conscious consumer practices into your day-to-day life.
What is conscious consumerism?
Conscious consumerism is the practice of becoming more aware of your purchase decisions.
A conscious consumer thinks before swiping a credit card or emptying their Amazon shopping cart. A conscious consumer considers how their spending is affecting society at large with a social, environmental, political, or economic lens.
Simply put, conscious consumerism is about aligning your values with your purchases.
Why does conscious consumerism matter?
While our individual decisions and behaviors can feel insignificant in the grand scheme of things, just remember that all change starts with the individual. If you want to see more companies thriving that value their employees and the environment, then you need to start supporting these organizations.
Here are a few reasons why conscious consumerism matters at an individual and societal level.
It promotes change
Conscious consumerism matters because you vote with your wallets on a daily basis. When you buy a product from a company that doesn’t provide fair treatment or fair compensation to their employees or companies that don’t support important social movements, you are supporting those values. Values that you may not agree with.
If we want companies to change their ways and do better, then we need to put pressure on them. If we continue to buy products from companies that we don’t believe in, then there is no reason for them to change.
And people are voting. In a survey by Empower of 1,000 Americans, 60% of respondents said that they had stopped spending money at companies based on their social beliefs – this was for reasons like not agreeing with their approach to COVID-19 precautions or not agreeing with their political point of view.
It promotes awareness
Conscious consumerism also promotes awareness. Rather than making blind purchases from companies you know nothing about, the process of becoming a conscious consumer encourages you to dig deeper, to explore your values, and to find companies and products that match them.
It’s good for you, and others
Conscious consumerism also matters because it’s good for you. As an example, think about buying local, organic food as opposed to unhealthy, processed food.
Organic food is a conscious choice and a healthier choice. It’s also better for the environment. The same is true when it comes to the clothing you wear or the products that you put on your body. The local, sustainable, ethical products are usually better for you, the employees producing the products, and the environment.
Can just anyone be a conscious consumer?
The answer to this is a little bit more complicated than you might think.
In theory, yes. Anyone can become a conscious consumer. All of us can think about what we value and then use the internet to research companies or products that align with these values.
In practice, it can be more difficult.
Ethically sourced, sustainable products are expensive. The reason fast fashion and fast food are so popular is because they’re affordable. The reason so many celebrities preach the value of “organic this,” and “sustainable that,” is because they can afford to purchase quality items.
While many people want to eat only organic, locally sourced, and sustainable food, it’s not always a reality because of cost.
It also takes time, effort, and energy to research companies and products that align with your views. People who are consumed with working multiple jobs in order to put food on the table for their family don’t have the luxury of researching each and every purchase.
Assuming most of us value fair pay, positive social change, and sustainable products, we also value efficiency and convenience. There’s a bit of a tug-of-war between our desire to purchase the products we believe in and the ease and affordability of things like fast fashion.
How do you implement conscious consumerism ideals and practices in your own life?
While becoming a conscious consumer takes time and effort, there are varying levels of engagement. It’s not an all or nothing deal. You don’t have to be an extremist. You can take baby steps when entering into this practice.
Here are a few ways you can begin to implement conscious consumerism into your own life.
Assess your values
First, take some time to think about your values. What matters to you? Are you concerned with the state of the environment and the effects of global warming? Do you want to see the end of child labor? What social movements do you believe in? What kind of clothes do you want to wear? What kind of products do you want to put on your body? What kind of companies do you want to support?
How do you want to vote with your money? Not everyone will be motivated by the same things, and that’s okay.
Look for Certified B Corporations
If you want to be a more conscious consumer, but you don’t have the time to research every company and product on the market, one thing you can do is look for certified B Corporations.
Certified B Corporations are businesses that have met standards on social and environmental criteria as outlined by the B Lab. Certified B Corporations are concerned with more than just their bottom line. They care about things like the treatment of their employees and their environmental impact.
One simple way to practice conscious consumerism is to buy used products. By shopping at thrift stores you’re preventing items from ending up in the landfill.
With online marketplaces like Poshmark and Letgo, it’s never been easier to buy and sell used items.
Look to buy local products. When you purchase products locally from small business owners, you have a better chance of getting to know where your food and products are coming from. You’re also putting money into the hands of small business owners as opposed to enormous corporations.
Buying local also means the product doesn’t have to travel as far to get from the producer to you, the consumer. Less travel is better for the environment.
Do you really need another shirt, another hat, a new iPhone, or another pair of shoes? I mean, really?
Conscious consumerism isn’t just about deciding what companies you want to buy from, it’s also a question of whether you need to buy more.
Part of being a conscious consumer is evaluating the impact of your purchases. Buying more for the sake of having more, often results in more waste. So, part of being a conscious consumer is knowing when to minimize your consumption.
Use a water bottle
This is a super simple way to practice conscious consumerism. If you don’t want to add to the insane amount of plastic water bottles in our landfills and oceans then start using a reusable water bottle. It might seem small but it all adds up. Similarly, start using reusable coffee cups, straws, and food containers.
Become a socially responsible investor
Traditional investing is all about the bottom line. Where you invest is based on what is going to yield the highest value. Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) still aims at making you money but it also takes environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues into account.
And, you don’t need to sacrifice returns to invest with a conscience. A study in the Economist reported that sustainable funds outperformed the broader market during a market downturn.
- Betterment offers socially responsible investing opportunities.* Betterment believes that you don’t have to choose between value-based investing and working towards your financial goals. They offer SRI portfolios that can help you to invest in your goals while staying true to your values.
- Empower also offers SRI investing opportunities. They can help you to invest in companies that are managing their environmental, social, and governance issues and they make it easy to add these options to your portfolio. Empower will work with you to determine what investments align with your values whether you are looking for companies that value fair treatment of their employees or companies that care about environmental issues like carbon emissions.
*Higher bond allocation in your portfolio decreases the percentage attributable to socially responsible ETFs.
Research companies before you make a purchase
If you have the time to put into researching companies and products before making a purchase then by all means – do it. It’s all about awareness. The more you know about a company or product, the more confident you can feel that you are supporting a worthy company or removing your business from a corporation that doesn’t deserve it.
Of course, it can be a challenge to find reliable information, and even when you do locate the details of a product, it can be difficult to interpret (I’m thinking of all the ingredients I can’t even pronounce when it comes to food or beauty products).
If you want help identifying the environmental or ethical qualities of a company there are a number of different apps you can use such as Agreeable & Co or TradeMade.
What does the future of conscious consumerism look like?
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can’t predict the future. However, we can make some educated guesses as to where the future of consumerism is headed.
Minimalism and the sharing economy
Over the past decades, we’ve seen a rise in trends like minimalism, tiny houses, and the sharing economy.
There’s also been a trend towards reduced meat consumption with a rise of vegetarianism and veganism. Think about it, there were no Beyond Burger or Impossible Burgers twenty years ago.
Socially responsible investing
The investing world is anticipating a similar trend. A 2020 article by CNBC suggests that socially and environmentally conscious investing options will be “the next mega-trend in equities.”
The article quotes Peter Garnry, Head of Equity Strategy at Saxo Bank who says,
“We believe that these green stocks could, over time, become some of the world’s most valuable companies – even eclipsing the current technology monopolies as regulation accelerates during the coming decade.”
Increased awareness and action
According to a white paper by Empower, more Americans are becoming more actively involved in regards to where their money is being invested as opposed to leaving it up to a financial advisor.
This is especially true when it comes to the younger generations. In a survey of over 1,000 Americans, 55% of Millennials respondents reported that they chose the companies they wanted to invest in compared to 39% of Baby Boomers.
The first step to becoming a conscious consumer is simply understanding what conscious consumerism is. It’s about understanding what you value and looking for opportunities to support the companies that you truly believe in. This is opposed to shopping blind and making purchases solely based on convenience and price.
While it’s important to acknowledge that not everyone has the resources to be the consummate conscious consumer, we can all do our part. There are simple strategies like using a reusable water bottle or buying used products. So, if you’re ready to be a more conscious consumer then pick one small strategy and start today!
(Personal Capital is now Empower)
Empower Personal Wealth, LLC (“EPW”) compensates Webpals Systems S. C LTD for new leads. Webpals Systems S. C LTD is not an investment client of Personal Capital Advisors Corporation or Empower Advisory Group, LLC.