While we’re fortunate to live in a world of convenience, and everything within our reach at the click of a button, it’s so easy to just buy something for the sake of it. However, our world is also at a crucial juncture when we’re becoming more aware of what is around us. I’d like to use this blog post to offer up some questions for conscious consumers to consider before making an impulse purchase, whether that’s in store or online. Let’s dive right in.
1. Do I need to buy it?
If you didn’t need it yesterday, do you need it today? Will you still need it in a week’s or a month’s time? If a particular item is serving a purpose instead of satisfying a whim that you know you’ll regret later, go ahead. If you know you’ll feel guilt later, it’s worth taking that extra moment to feel uncomfortable with that realisation now rather than spending weeks, months, or even years later trying to convince yourself that you really did need it.
2. If I buy it, will I use it?
Once the item has served its purpose, what can be done with it. Is it going to end up gathering dust in the loft, on a shelf, or forgotten about? Perhaps you might fall into the trap of buying another one, not realising you have it stashed away somewhere “safe”.
3. Can I borrow it from someone?
If it’s something you only need to use once, or infrequently, could you borrow from a friend or neighbour? Things like garden or DIY tools can always be swapped around, and you’d be creating a sense of sharing in your local community. There’s no better way to be a conscious consumer than by not buying something that’s already available for free!
4. Who made it?
Does someone take the time to forage, grow, or nurture the ingredients? Or is it made by a team of low-paid workers in a factory owned by a faceless corporation? Everything we buy has a price. Often, the low-price items do not reflect the true cost of what goes into their production. As such, this is perhaps the biggest question for conscious consumers to reflect on.
5. What material is it made of?
Are the materials natural and sustainable, easily replenished and simple to recycle or compost? Or are they artificial and difficult to dispose of safely? It’s kind of fun to find products that have been made with “waste” material, such as Lyocell, which is made from wood pulp. With the right mindset and creativity, it’s astonishing what can be made with leftover materials and reduce the amount of waste going to landfill.
6. Where is it made?
Are the materials locally sourced, or have they travelled from the opposite end of the globe to reach your doorstep or your supermarket shelf? And yet, this does not always tell the whole story. This is one of many questions for conscious consumers that is difficult to answer. The carbon footprint of shipping lamb from New Zealand to the UK is actually smaller than it would be rearing the same animals in the British Isles simply because of our climate.
7. How is it made?
Is this item produced en masse in a factory floor on a conveyor belt, with thousands of them being made every day? Or, perhaps it’s a handcrafted, artisanal item that has been carefully designed and made especially for you. No one else will have the exact same piece that you do!
8. How is it packaged?
If you’re lucky, it’ll come in recycled paper or cardboard, maybe with compostable packing beans, or shredded newspaper. You might have a refill shop near you, where you can take your jars to fill with dried foodstuffs and stock up on oils and bathroom items. Basically, the less plastic packaging we let into our homes, the less we have to deal with, and the less litter and rubbish that ends up going to landfill or incinerators.
9. Who sells it?
I know we’re all guilty of immediately perusing Amazon whenever we want to buy, but where do you really want to put your money? Maybe you’re starting to feel concerned about the international reach, power and wealth of these big conglomerate businesses, and you know that they don’t need their pockets lining any more than they already are. Perhaps their ethics and values do not align with yours. In that case…
10. Can I buy something similar from a local seller or supplier?
The good news is that there are always alternatives. Okay, so it might cost a bit more, and take more time to reach you, but your money is staying within your local economy and helping to support a small business. Before you automatically go for Amazon’s one-click “Buy Now” try asking your friends or in local social media groups if anyone makes what you are looking for. You’ll be surprised at what you can find right on your doorstep!
11. What will happen to this item at the end of its life?
Once an item has served its purpose, can you dispose of it correctly? Can it be repurposed, recycled, composted or donated? Or is it just something else to be “thrown away” and not thought of again. The bad news is that there is no “away”, because it has to go somewhere. That “where” is usually a landfill site.
12. Why do I want to buy it?
Are you only buying it because it’s on offer? Would you buy it at full price? Are you only buying something for the sake of it, “just because”, or am I trying to fill a hole that can’t be filled? Like I said at the beginning, if you know there is a good reason, go ahead.
I hope this article has given you a different thought process for your shopping habits. Start to get curious about the products you look at online, in the shops, or on the supermarket shelves. Even if you start out with one question at a time, you can start to build up a picture of what is really going on.
Don’t worry if you fall back into old habits. These things take time. Sometimes we do just need something right now that can only be purchased from a certain place and with certain expectations.
As you come to decide on what is most important to you, you will become more adept at seeking out and finding products and services that align with your values. By asking these questions for conscious consumers, you can drive change with better buying decisions that will cause a ripple effect.
The key thing here is that sustainable shopping is not an end game, it’s a journey. It’s a fun and exciting one. It can be challenging at times; but once you’ve taken your first step, you’ll want to keep going!
If you get lost along the way, don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are plenty of people at different stages along the same path. Have fun getting to know them, get to know your local community. Over time you’ll grow a network of contacts, suppliers and even friends that you can depend on for your shopping fix.