Being an Eco-Friendly Consumer
Being an eco-friendly consumer doesn’t necessarily have to involve a high level of knowledge, skill, or sacrifice. I’m going to break it down into three very simple steps. If you can remember to do these, while making purchasing decisions and beyond, you will greatly reduce your footprint.
Before you do something, think. This is good advice in general, but it’s a simple rule to keep you cognizant. It’s important to think about the consequences of your actions.
Every buying instance is an opportunity to reduce your footprint. Every time you head over to Amazon, or go to the grocery store, Think. Think about what you should be avoiding (plastic and pesticides!), opportunities to make more environmentally-friendly decisions (organic, or reduced packaging), and ways to avoid supporting negative externalities* of products. (Super cheap means someone somewhere is suffering so you can have a cheap pair of painful shoes).
*Negative externalities refer to the built in environmental and social costs of cheap, poorly produced, and irresponsible products. These might include poor working conditions for laborers, child labor, pollution, irresponsible material selection, miles of transport, carbon footprint, etc.
All along a product’s life span, there are several opportunities to Think about the impacts of the product. A product’s journey starts at extraction or production of materials, then goes through manufacture, transport, use, on to end of life. All these steps have impacts, such as pollution, deforestation, CO2 emissions, resource use, etc. Each product you own right now had a pretty full life before it got to you. You’re looking at a middle-aged product. And understanding what went in to turning raw materials into that product can help you identify the value, negative externalities and impact of that product.
If you start applying cognizance to each purchase decision, this thoughtful approach will start to infiltrate other aspects of your life. For instance, when you go to throw something away, you might find that you’re wondering what happens to that product after you do so.
Once you start thinking each time you are faced with purchase, use, or disposal of a product, you will recognize that your life is filled with opportunities to be a more eco-friendly consumer, and make more environmentally and socially responsible decisions.
After you think about the externalities, and the consequences of what you are considering, move to step number two. Ask.
When it comes to purchasing as an eco-friendly consumer, Ask yourself if you truly need what you are about to buy.
I started by waiting 24 hours before I purchase something I thought I wanted. So often the inconvenience of having to go back to the store to get it, or even just sleeping on it overnight subsides my desire. I’ve saved a lot of money this way! And now, I’ve trained myself to be able to shorten that temporal distance between seeing and making a decision. I’ve gotten good at recognizing what would be an impulse buy, and what would actually benefit me or make me happy. We think a product will make us happy and it ends up sitting in our closet, or a drawer, and we don’t actually derive any benefits from it.
Much like Thinking, Asking can be applied along a product’s entire life cycle. Ask if it can be reused or re-purposed after its intended use. Would anyone else benefit from this, as it is? Can it be disassembled and the parts be used elsewhere? Can it be donated? Would it be possible to turn it into something else?
The main ask is ‘how do I continue to get value from this item?’ Because when you Think about allllll the resources that went into producing that item, it doesn’t make sense to not squeeze every bit of worth out of it.
And of course, Google is fantastic for identifying new uses for old items!
The next thing you need to do is act. I know, it seems so simple. But that’s what The Guilty Granola is about! Making sustainability simple.
So, after you have taken the time to thoughtfully analyze the situation, and recognize the opportunity to be sustainable through a series of Asks, you get to decide what you’re going to do.
Now, I recognize that there are plenty of reasons why you will not always make the most sustainable decision. And I forgive you for that! I forgive myself regularly for that. As you are starting out on your sustainable journey, you won’t make the most sustainable decisions at first. You will still continue to prioritize things such as convenience, price, accessibility, trends, and any other preferences you have coming into this.
My advice here is to recognize that it is indeed a journey. I often take the opportunity to explain why I call myself The Guilty Granola, and this is one of those opportunities. My goal is to help you move along your journey of sustainability, no matter where you are starting. And that means that I recognize that you’re not going to change overnight. I didn’t. And I’m still changing. And it’s a fun journey! So do what you can, but just keep applying rule number one, Think. I promise you – making sustainable choices will become easier for you. And man, it’s rewarding! And empowering.
The Power of an Eco-Friendly Consumer
Being a responsible consumer means thinking about your purchases and the consequences of your choices. It means asking the right questions to understand how you can perpetuate value with the products you own. And it means acting on your desires to be more sustainable.
And corporations are guided by consumer trends. If we, as consumers, start making more sustainable choices, corporations will continue to provide more sustainable options. So, take back the power. Tell the corporations what we are looking for by voting with your wallet. You’ll find more money in that wallet when you apply the 24 hour rule. Then you can use that extra dough to buy what you actually truly want, and an ethically produced version of it.
Power to the People! (the sustainable ones…)