Becoming a conscious consumer

Image by Raquel Martinez via Unsplash

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In my first article, I wrote about our ecological footprints and then you were introduced to Carbon and Water Footprints, which are piece of the total Ecological Footprint. Also I highlighted the information about Earth Overshoot Day. This was the date which indicated how much of the ecosystem’s resources people had consumed up until that point. In effect, that means humanity used ecological resources exceeding what our planet is able to generate in one year. For the rest of year we would be using resources from nature’s future ‘budget’. It cannot carry on like that forever because each year the date comes earlier than the year before. There must be some way to move the date forward.


Let’s think about our lives.


We survive our life mainly through three necessities: Food, housing and transportation. These three have all the responsibility for our daily life’s impact on the environment. In fact, food, housing and transportation are responsible for approximately 75-80% of the impact on the environment. Furthermore, if we look in detail, housing is responsible for almost 30% of the impact, in particular from heating systems. Another major influencer is the use of transportation. Driving and flying cause about 30% of the impact. The third part is our nourishment, which involves food, and drinks, which are responsible for 25%. In this case we need to focus on individual consumer choices and the level of our consumption. Indeed, there are some simple ways in which to change your life’s priority areas – food, housing and transportation and the way in which you consume or use resources. This is what is known as conscious consumerism.


So what do you need to focus on as you are doing conscious consumerism?


Sit back and think for a moment. You will see that it will not really involve dramatic changes to your lifestyle and that you can easily have an environmentally conscious lifestyle with some small adjustments. Also by implementing some daily changes, which are not so hard, to achieve, like using public transportation, riding a bicycle or walking, choosing energy-efficient home appliances and so forth. On the other hand, we all know that when we reduce the amount of our daily purchasing or stop buying things, it will eventually lead to a decline in terms of the environmental impact.


What about short-lived consumer products such as food, drinks, detergents, beauty and personal products, clothes, supplements, stationary, equipment and so forth which are our life priorities? Shall we stop buying these things? As a consumer, we need to learn environmental information about what we buy and to understand a product’s energy, environmental or food labels which give us information about buying consciously and seeking to reduce our impact on the planet.


So what do you need to know about the three labels – Energy, Environmental and Food?


Energy Labels


These are commonly found on household electrical goods such as washing machines, televisions, computers, light bulbs, dishwashers and so forth. The label highlights the energy efficiency of the product and indicates to the customer how much money they can save overall on their annual utility bills.


Environmental Labels


Companies produce goods, which they claim are made with environmental aspects i.e. the product, is made from recycled materials or the product itself can be recycled. Eco labelling also contains information about the life cycle of a product and the different levels of impact on the environment in the different stages of the product life cycle. A good example of this is with laundry detergent. If your detergent has an eco label, it shows that it contains less harmful chemicals. Furthermore, they are more efficient in their usage at lower temperatures, which means you can minimise your energy consumption levels by not having to heat the water to high levels.


Food Labels


Products are labelled to show and guarantee that the food was grown in a way that did not damage the environment such as being sourced from an organic farm as in the case of the food products certified by the U.K. Soil Association. This British association guarantees that the food products are pesticide and artificial fertiliser free. In some countries fish are labelled according to the scarcity of that particular breed of fish and the consumer can then choose to buy less of the fish type with the lowest stocks. This encourages sustainable fishing and seafood.


So you might be feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of information on products, but becoming consumer conscious is about going step by step and slowly and gradually evolving into a new type of consumer. The thought of living and buying sustainably can cause some chaos in our mind in the beginning because it seems a bit complicated for us to know which products are environmental friendly. So to recap, you will think about how you can understand whether the product is ethical for the environment and whether the product has sustainable alternatives. But beware because some products may sound ethical and environmental but actually they are just trying to cash in on the trend for ethical consumerism.


Now, I am going to explain how to understand what is happening beyond the product you purchase. Production process is becoming more transparent day by day and companies are producing their products in increasingly better ways, e.g. packing materials might be easily recyclable or raw materials are used which are provided or farmed sustainably. Therefore, the cumulative effect is that individual choices can lead to change business models. One ripple in the ocean can lead to a wave of change. You have the purchasing power as an individual and conscious consumer. If you demand more environmentally products, companies will be pressured into producing more sustainable goods. As the demand grows for sustainable products more companies start to supply these goods and thus the price is driven down, making sustainable products more affordable. In the early days of conscious consumerism, it was often felt that organic food products were only affordable by the wealthy as they were sold at much higher prices than non-organic food products. The more people that lobby companies, the more the prices for ethically produced goods will decrease.


If you are on the verge of becoming a sustainable consumer you may think that it is very difficult to buy sustainably or to live a sustainable life, but do not forget that your contribution to the planet will be part of a domino effect as more people wake up to the importance of this evolution of thought and action.


It is all about what we gain, not what we give up.


We all have the responsibility as citizens to protect the earth from the harmful effects of our consumption.


Needless to say, creating a life to operate in a sustainable way may take a long time. It is not just a lifestyle; it is in fact beyond lifestyle. The expanded meaning of sustainable living is to:


‘Explore – Learn – Experiment’ and adopt new habits in your life (E.L.E for short).


Look on the bright side of this, for example, as you purchase environmental friendly and eco-labelled branded cleaning products, you can protect your health from harmful chemical contamination as well. Also another gain could be that instead of driving, walking or cycling will help you to improve your health.


Humanity is diverse and complicated, lifestyles are too. We are living in an age of technology. When you start to change your patterns, share your knowledge and the positive impact of your sustainable living with others, you never know you may inspire someone somewhere in the world. As a conscious consumer, you can learn and teach people so much because sustainable living is an exciting journey.


Şeyda DAĞDEVİREN HILL, Istanbul, November 4, 2017.