CANTA issue #5, 2017

Katie Harris investigates how to treat yo’self without screwing the planet over.

Conscious consumerism. Ahh, the golden halo of being a person. A luxury granted to those who can afford that additional $2 on toilet rolls that are from recycled materials, and heck 100% vegan!

Conscious consumerism has in recent years been touted as a savior to our increasingly materialistic society. Not only can we continue to deplete the natural resources of our planet but we can also feel good while we do it! Because you know what – 5% of profits will go to protecting the Amazon! Amazing!  In a powerful article written by Aiden Wicker titled ‘Conscious Consumerism is a lie’, he dismantled the notion of being a conscious consumer and put forward the idea that conscious consumerism does nothing for the planet. In many ways he was right, however, in this piece will put forward the idea that yes conscious consumerism is manipulated by money making corporations but it is still important and can make a difference.

It is easy to subscribe to the ideology that is conscious consumerism- I mean, what could be better? We still can enjoy the bounty westernised living affords us, but we no longer feel guilty about having that 5th McNugget Combo.

Conscious consumers believe that each dollar we spend is a ‘vote’ towards the world you want to live in.

The reasoning behind conscious consumerism is that we can influence brand behavior by choosing to support businesses and products whose beliefs align with our own. In turn, businesses will adopt more environmentally friendly strategies to keep up with consumer demands. Companies that are not sustainable are often boycotted by conscious consumers and are forced to exchange their business model to keep a share of the market.

Let me make one thing clear, being a conscious consumer is a good thing. Actively trying to decrease the impact our purchasing decisions has on the climate is always positive.

Big companies, however, are taking advantage consumers and misleading them into believing that through their consumerism they are inherently saving the world.

Companies perpetuate the idea that merely through buying their product you are saving the planet. We are falsely sold into the ideology that taking action is simply a purchasing decision and that our effort can be restricted to our brand preference.

As consumers, we do hold power. A recent example is the countdown egg scandal. After it was discovered that countdown stocked eggs labelled as free range but were actually caged there was a public outcry. Online protest ensued and as a result, Countdown has committed to being ‘Caged-egg free’ by 2020. As buyers, we can have an influence on how brands behave and if enough band together we can have a real impact.

Despite this, we should still do the best we can whilst remaining in our budget. We should still want to do what’s right for our planet. And hey, if that means spending an extra $2 for a brand that offsets its carbon emissions, so be it. We do hold power to shape the world around us. Through buying from companies that are ethical we can help encourage brands to adopt better business models. Nonetheless, we should invest wisely, perhaps it is better to donate money straight to the organisation. If you don’t really care about saving endangered wilder beasts in the Amazon- maybe don’t buy that brand but donate the savings to a cause you really care about.

To surmise, yes conscious consumerism is a good thing. However, if you really want to make an impact there are more efficient ways.

How to actually make a difference 

Don’t use plastic bags. The plastic bag. A reusable shopping bag is far more efficient at transporting a 12 pack of Smirnoff Ice home from the liquor store than a plastic bag ever will be. At the supermarket, try to buy unwrapped fruit and vegetables.

Buying secondhand. Following trends and conforming to the ever-changing fashion scene is a surefire way to assure not only a hole in your wallet but the ozone. There’s nothing quite like the personal touch of a second-hand item. Another growing trend for the environmentally conscious is ‘Upcycling’- which is a creative reuse of old clothes. Brands such as ‘Designs by Niche’ repurpose clothing into one of a kind pieces which serve not only the environment but also consumer demand for unique items.

Buy quality.  

If you are buying something, buy something that will last. The business model for Patagonia is an exemplary example of good conscious consumerism. In a recent advertisement campaign, they stated on top of a photo of a black jacket ‘Don’t buy this jacket’. The company acknowledges their impact on the environment and the hypocrisy of such a campaign. However, they have thousands of employees dependent upon them to support their families. The ad was placed to highlight consumer culture and to help people become aware of the cycle of buying stuff they don’t need. They believe in creating fewer things of higher quality. Although the price tag is on the higher end- the quality, the sustainability and the well-being of workers are assured.

Decrease your consumption of animal products 

It would be impossible to write an article on conscious consumerism without the elephant (or in this case cow) in the room. Animal agriculture has an undeniably strong link to the degradation of our planet, Methane gas from ruminant stock (Sheep and cattle) account for over 1/3rd of New Zealand’s Methane emissions1. Simply by reducing our intake of animal products (In particular beef and dairy) we can lower the demand for these products, therefore, lowering the number of farms and lowering emissions.

Last but not least- Prioritise what you really give a fuck about.

Earlier in the article, I touched on the idea of deciding what environmentally caring about. Instead of halfheartedly consuming goods, we can make a change by getting dirty and challenging big brands on issues that are close to our hearts. Join protest on things you actually care about. If deep sea oil drilling really grinds your gears- do something about it. If the fact that a company uses unsustainable palm oil in their products, email them, create an online petition to boycott their products. Choose what you actually care about and  stick at it.

– Katie Harris

Conscious Consumerism 2
Conscious Consumerism 1
Conscious Consumerism
Issue Two: The Greasy Wok 4