How to Be an Ethical ConsumerDec 15, 2023
Stakeholders are the bread and butter of sustainability, and when I say stakeholders, that means all of us. Consumers, brand employees, workers throughout the supply network, factory owners, advocates and NGO employees, and everyone in between. Stakeholders also include the environment and the systems that keep our global ecosystems thriving. People, and our ability to work collaboratively, can have a tremendous impact on how our global society looks, but what do we do when we may have different ideas about what the world should look like?
Therein lies one of the problems surrounding sustainability - how do we know what’s right and what should we do? Every stakeholder, from the average consumer to the board of directors asks this question. Depending on where you’re at in your sustainability journey, these questions advance in difficulty, but there is a connection between all of us.
We are all consumers in some way, shape, or form. We all need things to keep us alive, it’s our system of how and why we consume these things that’s broken. That’s why we’re doing a deep dive on how we all can become sustainable consumers - no matter where you are in the world, your economic standing, or your education level. Sustainability can and should be for everyone, we just need to know where to start.
A good place to start is by getting curious. Have you ever wondered where your clothes were made? How was your toilet paper made? What ingredients are inside of your favorite skincare item? It’s okay to not know the answer, but by getting curious we as consumers can start to shift our perspectives on our goods. A piece of clothing is no longer just something that lives in your closet, it becomes something that thousands of hands helped bring to life or a representation of all the natural resources needed to get that item into your hands. Maxine Bedat’s book, Unraveled, does a great job at telling the lifecycle of a pair of jeans - where the cotton was grown and who the farmers are, the garment workers that work long hours dyeing and sewing the jeans together, and every other element that helps bring those pair of jeans to your doorstep.
Getting those questions swirling around in your mind will likely make you hungry for answers. Educating yourself, in any way you can, will help you answer some of those questions and will probably lead you to even more questions. As an organization that works in the education field, I can admit to being biased about this step, but believe me when I say it really is that important. Read, watch, and listen to as much content as you possibly can, and if you can afford it and feel committed to the movement, enroll in some classes. There will be a list below of our favorite learning resources (free and paid) for anyone interested in diving in.
It’s great to have knowledge around sustainability, but how are you going to put it into practice? This can get tricky, but one common theme that has been around for years in the sustainable consumption space is considering overconsumption and underutilization. For us consumers, this means that we’re buying too much and we’re not making the most of our stuff. We’re all guilty of impulse buys or buying an item just because it’s trendy, or for throwing out something just because it has some minor damage - these are just unsustainable habits we’ve developed that can be broken with practice.
Buying less is a crucial step in becoming a conscious consumer. Asking yourself if you really need that new piece of clothing or the latest tech release can help you avoid buying unnecessary stuff and save you some money. Additionally, if you have items in your home that are damaged, see if you can get them fixed instead of throwing them out. If there’s absolutely no saving it, try repurposing or downcycling those items. This works especially well for textiles like shirts and jeans - try turning them into hand towels, blankets, or other easy to DIY home goods.
I know we’re all tempted to participate in “wardrobe refreshes” every now and then, but instead of getting rid of clothes you no longer wear or like, try to form an emotional bond with them. It may sound a little strange, but if you can become attached to your clothes, you’re less likely to get rid of them. This may include personalizing an item from your closet, forming a tradition with a piece of clothing, or even simply appreciating the craftsmanship of the item.
Let’s say you need to buy something - do you know how to spot greenwashing? Greenwashing has been, in my opinion, overused and misused lately but it is a real issue that can happen in sustainability marketing. In simple terms, greenwashing is the over exaggeration of sustainability efforts or a miscommunication of sustainability attributes of a product or company. Brands could do this intentionally or unintentionally, but being able to identify greenwashing can help you make the best purchase decision that aligns with your ethics and values. We have a short video detailing all that you need to know to spot greenwashing the next time you run out to the store.
All of these tips are just the start to ethical consumption, but as you learn more, the more confident you will become in your sustainability journey. While industry continues to clean up their business practices, do what you can with what resources are afforded to you to support the movement. Your participation in climate action and telling these brands that you, communities around the world, and the planet deserve better is vital to creating the society we want for future generations.
To recap, when making the transition to a responsible, ethical, or sustainable consumer, consider the following:
- Get Curious - ask questions and have conversations with those around you
- Shift Your Perspectives - don’t see things as things, consider everything that went into making that product
- Education - read, listen, and watch as much sustainability content as you can (list of resources here)
- Overconsumption & Underutilization - slow down and cherish your goods
- Buy Less - save some money, and only buy what and when you need
- Get Items Fixed - repair your goods as often as you can
- Repurpose or Downcycle - take unusable goods and turn them into useful household items
- Emotional Bond - build an emotional connection to your goods and make it something you’ll have for years to come
- Spot Greenwashing - be on the lookout when shopping and if something seems fishy, avoid it and do your own research
Thanks for joining me on this week’s blog, and I hope to see you back here soon! If you’d like to discuss this post or another sustainability topic, please send us an email to [email protected].
Take care ✌️,
Top 35 Things to Know if you're learning about Sustainability in the Apparel Industry. Have you downloaded the guide yet?
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