Let’s say you need a new set of cookware, or a new dress for a party, or even just a new tube of toothpaste or bag of coffee beans.
How do you decide what brand to buy?
You might be influenced by an advertisement or a recommendation from a friend. Maybe you simply buy the same brand every time because your mom used it or it’s the only brand you’ve ever tried and the easiest route is to stick with the same thing.
But more and more of us are pausing before we buy. We’ve heard that out-of-control consumerism is having some negative effects on the planet. We know that product safety is not well-regulated and that companies don’t always have our health and safety in mind. We’re wary of the negative impacts of factories and farming practices on society and the environment.
We want to change our buying habits, but where do we start?
We start by simply being more conscious of the purchase decisions we make.
WHAT IS A CONSCIOUS CONSUMER?
The concept of conscious consumerism is not new and if you look around the web, you’ll find a few different definitions.
A conscious consumer is someone who considers the health effects, and the environmental and social impacts of a product before making a decision on what to buy.
A conscious consumer thinks before they buy. They are engaged in the purchase decision and will ask a few questions before buying:
• Is this safe and healthy for me and my family?
• Is it harming the planet in any way?
• What is the impact on society?
A conscious consumer makes deliberate, informed choices instead of mindlessly buying things they think they need.
A conscious consumer demands transparency and authenticity from brands and will take a pass on products that don’t match their values.
A conscious consumer is confident because they have done their research and figured out the best choices for their family.
A conscious consumer wants to be part of the solution, not the problem.
HOW TO BE A CONSCIOUS CONSUMER
Ultimately, being a conscious consumer is about focusing on the values that matter most to you, educating yourself, and doing your best given your personal constraints of time and money.
Here are top 10 suggestions for how to be a socially conscious, sustainable consumer:
1.) Do Some Homework – Spend some time learning about the products you buy.
• Visit brand websites and read the About Us section and dig into the information about how products are made.
• Use trusted sources like the Environmental Working Group (EWG) to learn about the health & environmental impacts of products.
• Read blogs like Mindful Momma (A shameless plug – but seriously check out my product guides because they tell you what NOT to buy as well as better brands to look for.)
2.) Understand Ingredients – No, you do not need to be a chemist, but be aware of the top ingredients and materials that have been shown to be harmful to humans and the planet. There is a lot to learn on this subject, but the top categories are:
• Hormone-disrupting chemicals like phthalates, bisphenols and flame retardants that are in everything from personal care products to plastics to home products.
• Perfluorinated compounds found in non-stick cookware and food packaging that are likely carcinogenic.
• Pesticides like glyphosate and others linked to cancer.
• Heavy metals that are neurotoxins that can effect brain development.
Yes, these dangerous chemicals are legally allowed to be in products. It’s the wild west out there so the more informed you are, the better.
3.) Read Labels – Start reading product labels and ingredient lists like a hawk. Be aware that many terms like “natural” and “safe” are unregulated and essentially mean nothing. Look for full ingredient lists on cleaning products (not required by law – but the more transparent a company is, the better.) Steer clear of the worst chemicals in beauty products and the worst additives and preservatives in food.
4.) Look for Certifications – When a product is certified by a trusted organization, it means you can be confident it has met strict guidelines for safety, environmental or social concerns. Examples of trustworthy certifications include USDA Organic Certified for food, Made Safe for personal care and home products, Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) for textiles, and Fair Trade Certified for food and clothing.
5.) Check Ratings – If possible, check a product’s rating on trusted apps and websites. The EWG has a database for personal care products called Skin Deep and the Guide to Healthy Cleaning for cleaning products. The Think Dirty app for personal care is also popular. For food, check out EWG’s Food Scores and the Dirty Dozen.
6.) Ask Questions – Question claims made by companies (What do you mean it’s “all natural”??) and ask questions about products before you buy (What exactly is in that “fragrance” listed on the label?) Use email or social media to contact companies, or talk to employees at stores and growers at a farmer’s market. There is so much to learn by asking questions!
7.) Consider the Environment – Make sure you understand the environmental impacts of products throughout the entire life cycle. This includes the materials used, the manufacturing process, the packaging, the transportation and the disposal of the product at the end of its life. The company website is a good place to look for this type of information but you may have to ask questions to get the full story.
8.) Examine Company Practices – Take time to consider the social impacts of a company and the manufacturing process of the products. Do do they give back to the community in any way? Are they a Certified B Corporation? Are the factories ethical? Do they follow Fair Trade practices that ensure a living wage and safe conditions for workers?
9.) Think Before You Buy – Instead of mindlessly shopping and buying everything you think you need immediately, wait before you buy and ask a few questions:
• Do I really need it? Learn how to buy less and still be satisfied.
• Can I rent or borrow it?
• Is there a used or pre-loved option available?
• Is there a safer, eco-friendly alternative?
10.) Explain to Others – Help others in your life understand the choices you make for health & the planet, and help them become conscious consumers too.
To be honest, what's covered here is just the tip of the iceberg. As you get digging, you’ll probably find you have more questions, but that’s wonderful because asking questions is such an important part of being a conscious consumer. It’s a journey!