Saturday Essay: How To Practice Conscious Consumption
Michael Stausholm, entrepreneur and founder of Sprout World, discusses how we can practice conscious consumption.
Most of us have realised that our frenzy of overconsumption will harm the planet and worsen the serious environmental problems the next generations are facing.
I believe that instead of focusing on less consumption, we should focus on conscious consumption. Conscious consumption does not mean to stop buying. Conscious consumption is simply about buying products of high quality.
For example, instead of buying three cheap t-shirts, buy one of high quality, which will last much longer. Make sure that you buy products from companies who consider sustainability and environmental impacts in their manufacturing and business model.
So, why don’t we just all turn into conscious consumers? Because responsible consumption is hard to act upon in isolation – it is the responsibility of both consumers AND companies to work together to make conscious consumption a reality, and here’s how it can be done.
Make convenience a priority
It might not be a huge surprise, but when all comes to all, convenience beats sustainability.
According to new research from Getty Images, which surveyed 10,000 people globally, 81% see themselves as eco-friendly but just 50% say they only buy products from brands that try to be eco-friendly.
The research also found that while 92% of respondents believe the way we treat our planet now will have a large impact on the future, 48% also say that although they know they should care more about the environment through their purchasing habits, convenience takes priority.
This set higher demands for the product development departments in today’s companies. And the way society is run as a whole. We need to make it an easy choice to be eco-friendly.
Let’s take the return deposit system implemented in Denmark as an example. You pay an additional amount when you buy your Coca-Cola can or plastic bottle and the supermarket returns your money then you hand the empty bottle in. If it wasn’t for this economic benefit, how many Danes would recycle their used bottles? I doubt many would do it.
It IS inconvenient to sort your trash, but motivating this way makes it more convenient.
Make prices more affordable for eco-friendly and ethical products
Price still plays a crucial role for our consumption. As long as it’s much cheaper to buy low quality food, clothes and toys, there will always be business for platforms like Alibaba and Wish where you can get products full of toxins, plastic and produced under terrible work conditions at costs that don’t even cover the production.
Producing eco-friendly, quality products are usually more costly. In my opinion, we would need to look at reduced VAT or taxes for companies that comply with certain sustainable standards, making sustainability accessible for all income groups.
Companies must be more transparent
Being a consumer and doing the right thing is extremely difficult because most industries, brands and products have a total lack of transparency.
How do I know that my H&M t-shirt is okay to buy just because it says “organic cotton” on the label? How is it produced and under what conditions? And can I be sure that a t-shirt from more expensive brands like Hugo Boss, Louis Vuitton or Burberry are actually more eco-friendly?
As consumers we don’t know for sure and this is one of the biggest problems today. We need more certifications. We need to raise the standards in every level of the supply chains. Transparency is crucial if we want consumers to truly start buying more consciously.
Traditional high plastic-polluting industries i.e. merchandising, need to rethink their offering
The brand merchandising industry can lose momentum if they don’t rethink their offering and adapt to face the growing number of conscious consumers who demand more sustainability and transparency. Most of us still like to receive a physical gift from a company but we are starting to think: do I really need this ball pen, keychain or magnet? What is it made of and how is it produced? And if it’s made of plastic, what does that say about the company behind?
It seems like there has been a race to the bottom of the promotional industry, where all that matters are price and quantity, disregarding the environmental footprint of the promotional item both before AND after use.
Today, a giveaway is not just a giveaway. You put your name on it. Whether you like it or not, you leave a message. Your values are exposed by everything that comes from your company. So they need to start offering alternatives that are more sustainable, and consumers need to get behind this, that way, we slowly but surely push the industry in a greener direction
For many years we have equated the amount of new 'stuff' and presents with affection and happiness.
One of the industries that takes advantage of this is the toy industry - an industry that’s still filled with “Made in China” plastic-filled, use-and-throw-away products.
From a child’s very first birthday, we show them that lots of presents means lots of love. Kids are drowning in plastic toys that create instant gratification, but they hardly ever play with.
We as adults need and have to change this by buying quality instead of quantity. Buying less, but also buying better. It’s like changing a bad habit – it takes time but if we start early, we can change the habits.
I’m not saying: “don’t buy” or “don’t consume at all”. This would put our societies at a standstill and harm our economies badly. I’m saying just buy products that create long term meaning and happiness, and the world and environment will be better for it too.
Consumers and companies must take responsibility for ethically bought goods
If as a consumer you have ever or are considering purchasing fake and “harmless” goods – as tempting as it may be i.e. that brand new Gucci bag for £50 on eBay, it does in fact have potential to cause harm – both the OECD and Interpol acknowledge that profits from fake goods are often used to fund criminal activities, money laundering and even terror.
Is it really that satisfying to own a fake? The same goes for companies, that either inadvertently or deliberately buy copies of goods. It is often due to ignorance - so please check the originality of your purchases and ensure you question the supply chain.
As a consumer, you have power and responsibility, so follow this rule: If it’s too goo (cheap) to be true, it most likely is. Just buy the real deal. And if you can´t afford it, buy other and more affordable brands. By not buying counterfeited products of mediocre quality, you avoid supporting the loss of jobs and helping potentially illegal organisations. And doubt the origin if your company suddenly can save 60 per cent on an order of Nike clothes for the local sports club.
Michael has advised the likes of Nike and Walmart on how to work towards more sustainable production practices, mentors green start-ups as a board member of Greencubator, and is founder of multi-million pound company Sprout World, sproutworld.com
the company behind the world’s only plantable pencil, used by Michelle Obama and Richard Branson, and ranked by Fast Company as the second most innovative company in Europe earlier this year. Over 30 million Sprout Pencils have been sold in over 80 countries to date.