What is a Conscious Consumer?

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I was recently asked whether I consider myself a "locavore." Given how much time I dedicate to writing about sustainability and organics, it's not an unreasonable question, I suppose. Still, as much as I admire the locavore movement (which promotes eco-friendly eating habits, particularly the consumption of locally grown crops and organics), I have to admit, I'm just not there, and I don't know that I ever will be. Sustainability, carbon footprint reduction, organics, and small farming are important issues to me, yet I still shop at major grocery stores (with my cloth bags, of course!), I still let my daughter eat those horrible little orange goldfish crackers, and I still eat Cheerios. Yes, the completely not-organic Honey Nut kind. We all have our weaknesses.

But that's me. I tend to look for options I can stick with in the long-term; choices I can integrate into a busy, active life. I know that if I go to an extreme, I might be able to maintain it for a while, but it just doesn't last because it's simply not compatible with my life. And I think that's pretty typical these days: trying to balance conscience and convenience, wanting to do one's part without having to stop driving or eating Oreos. So, am I a locavore? No. I wish I were that cool. Am I a conscious consumer? YES.

What is a conscious consumer?

We're all consumers to some degree. We need stuff. We buy stuff. We use stuff. Then, we need more stuff. And so on. And in the process of buying all of that "stuff," we can choose to be conscious consumers by making mindful decisions about our direct and indirect impacts on the world. When we purchase goods, we can stop to think about the companies we support, the chemicals and toxins we expose ourselves to, the natural resources we use, and so on.

The first and foremost question for a conscious consumer: "Do I actually need all of this stuff?" Buying consciously isn't just about buying organics or locally grown products, although those are really good options and great steps toward being more aware of our buying habits and their consequences. It's also about buying products we actually need instead of buying extra things that go to waste. In our buy-one-get-one-free, super-size-me, five-gallon-jug-of-mayonnaise society, it's easy to go for the bulk, pre-packaged, convenient choices. But if we're not going to use those products, then we're really contributing to climate change, depletion of natural resources, landfill crowding, and even increased prices as we artificially drive up demand.

Of course, we cannot just stop buying and consuming, so the best option is to do it wisely. In this series, we will discuss the best practices for buying (and disposing of!) those things we all use every day: groceries, home goods, electronics, office and school supplies, transportation, and clothing. This is a great place to start if you are serious about reducing your carbon footprint and doing your part to help stop the destruction of our natural resources. Along the way, we'll discuss ways to save money, support your local economy, and improve your health and well being.


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