Think back to the last time you went shopping. What did you buy?

Perhaps you chose free-range, organic eggs, or Fairtrade coffee from the supermarket. Or when you last bought some new clothes, you opted for a locally made item from a boutique, as opposed to products from a global chain.

If you make decisions like these, then you’re an ethical consumer – and you’re part of a growing group. You are a conscious consumer.


Conscious consumption glossary

When discussing responsible consumerism, there are a few key terms and phrases you’re likely to come across – here we define some of the main ones.

Buycott – This word is ‘buy’ and ‘boycott’ together, referring to customers that refuse to buy from certain companies due to their negative practices.

Positive purchasing – This phrase refers to how people try to create positive impact during the purchasing process, such as by supporting ethical businesses with their buying choices.

Purpose – Conscious consumption focuses on the purpose behind purchasing, whether that’s using social purpose to market to customers or supporting businesses that are modelled on achieving a purpose in addition to making money.


OK, So what exactly is ‘conscious consumerism’?

Essentially, conscious consumerism focuses on making positive decisions throughout the buying process, with the intention of helping to balance some of the negative impacts that consumerism has on the planet. For example, eating Fairtrade chocolate, wearing pre-worn clothing or using natural toiletries.

Responsible consumerism promotes sustainable farming and other eco-friendly ways of making products, as well as creating only the amount that’s needed. Other factors such as pay equality and humane working practices also drive this type of consumption.

The overall aim is to use customers’ purchasing power to consider the impact (on the environment or in society, for example) of what people buy, as well as why and how they make purchases.


Conscious Consumerism is on the Rise…

Based on a 2015 Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility – 66% of Global Consumers Say They’re Willing to Pay More for Sustainable Brands—Up 55% From 2014. 73% of Global Millennials Are Willing to Pay Extra for Sustainable Offerings—Up From 50% in 2014.

While consumers are being more aware of their power and looking more closely at the businesses they buy from, there are some key characteristics of conscious consumers

Conscious consumers want to use their individual actions to help create global impact, and so consuming is seen as a form of voting by using purchases to support businesses that promote the values these consumers see as important.

It’s worth noting that this type of spending requires some level of privilege, as well as the ability to make these decisions, which isn’t available to everyone.

There are caveats, however…

In 2018, 40% of consumers couldn’t name a socially responsible company. Meanwhile, 29% admitted not doing any homework to determine which companies were socially responsible. Those who did their homework were most likely to rely on product packaging to evaluate whether a company was doing good work. Passing judgment based on marketing copy from the back of a box or label isn’t exactly a CSI-level investigation.

We are hardwired to shop for the best deal and to satisfy our inner longings. For generations, we’ve been programmed to consume, and from fast food to fast fashion, we have mastered the practice of instant gratification. The psychology of shopping and consumption is something that runs counter to the social responsibility movement. For too long, we’ve discounted the power of this truth.

The bottom line is that consumers carry deeply embedded behaviors, and it is going to take an ongoing commitment to exchange bad habits for better ones, even when the desire is there to do good.

Year over year, we find that consumers are much more likely to prefer a buy-one-get-one free deal, than a buy-one-give-one to charity deal. This is a simple, compelling piece of data to illustrate the status quo of consumerism and why it must be overcome.

How to Be A Conscious Consumer.

Start small.  Ease into conscious consumption. Choose one or two of these behaviors that resonate with you. You will feel better about yourself and will be making positive change.  Be the ripple!

  1. Reuse, repurpose
  2. Demand transparency – research issues such as environmentally conscious manufacturing processes, responsible farming practices, human trafficking, equal pay, prevention of counterfeit goods and overproduction of goods.
  3. Price versus cost. The cheapest price is rarely the fair price. We worship “cheap”, but at what (or who’s) expense? The Planet? A child’s?
  4. Shop with the heart. Does it feel right. What is the impact of this purchase?  Am I helping someone?
  5. Pause before you purchase. Do you really need this? Will it enrich myself or the recipient?
  6. Applaud your small changes.  Smile when you buy local. Take pride when you have the chance to purchase an ethically sourced piece of clothing.
  7. Reduce/eliminate single-use plastic. Decline that plastic bag for your purchases. Bring your own.
  8. Buy for quality – support companies that provide guarantees and have positive reviews (read and research the reviews carefully!).
  9. Choose businesses that are committed to sustainability.  Check the packaging that your online retailers use.  Is it eco-friendly? Avoid plastics, bubble wrap, Styrofoam etc..
  10. Buy sustainable and toxic-free cleaning products.  This is good for the environment and also for your health.
  11. Before you toss something, think carefully about the possibility of giving it a new lease on life or new home.