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Trying to impress people is exhausting. We know this, but nevertheless, we continue to try to meet or exceed other's expectations. When we see our neighbors or friends buying a new car, remodeling their homes, or jetting off on trips to Europe it’s difficult not to compare our lackluster lives. It’s possible that they saved up for years to go on that one in a lifetime vacation, but it’s also possible that credit cards were involved.
In actuality, the amount of debt some people fall into while “keeping up” can be immense. Keeping up with the Joneses is a colloquial phrase with a fascinating history. The actual Joneses’ summer home, Wyndcliffe, originally inspired the phrase. After the construction of the mansion in 1853, the whole neighborhood went into a house reno frenzy. Now dilapidated and spooky-looking, the house previously sat on 80 acres, had tennis courts, and overlooked the Hudson River. There may be a metaphor in there somewhere.
Conspicuous consumption is the converse of conscious consumerism. (Say that 10 times fast!) In other words, buying stuff to show off wealth, is the opposite of being mindful of what is bought, where the products come from, and how they get to your home. Learning to become unworried about neighbors’ opinions about what we accumulate is the first step to conscious consumerism. Once that barrier is defeated, the next step is to learn about the company's work environment, where products are from, and how the company works to become more sustainable and environmentally conscious.
Just because there is space in a house or garage, doesn’t mean it needs to be filled. Obsessively spending due to the demands of “keeping up” may lead to financial strain, difficulties in relationships, and ultimately depression or other mental health issues. Unsurprisingly, a [2013 study](https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4012696/#:~:text=Overall%2C%20the%20results%20indicate%20that,and%20domestic%20violence%20(23.5%25) cited financial problems as one of the top five reasons for divorce.
Farmer’s Markets, thrift stores, yard sales, local retailers, and specialty shops can be a conscious consumer’s goldmine. Helping out neighbors in your community will stimulating the local economy makes it great for everyone involved. Buying produce from local farmers not only ensures that their livelihood is maintained, but also lessens carbon emissions, reduces plastic waste, and builds relationships within the community.
Buying second-hand clothes from local thrift stores, yard sales, or from friends might help out a family in need, and not paying full-price for clothes is well worth drudging through some unfashionable items. Lastly, buying jewelry, art, or furniture from a local craftsperson can almost always ensure quality work. Quality over quantity could be the conscious consumer’s mantra.
For bigger ticket items or items that can’t be bought locally, it’s important to research companies. Specifically, research how workers within the company are treated. From the factory workers who manufacture the goods, to the delivery drivers, or retail workers who sell the items, it’s important to know that their needs are being met through their employer.
Workplace issues like gender equality, career development, flexible working hours, parental leave, and non-discrimination are coming to the forefront and transparency is important to consumers. Just Capital ranked companies on these issues and while out of the 890 publicly traded US companies they surveyed didn’t disclose all the information, they analyzed what data they could. Simply doing a Google search of a company, reading articles, or glancing over Glassdoor reviews may give you more insight into the inner workings of a company.
Company models are evolving and a few are even based on giving back in some capacity. While there are four main business models, there are several subcategories. Some models are more socially conscious than others. Different “giving back” models include buy-one-give-one, donating a portion (or all) profits, advocacy-based, and awareness brands. These models are becoming more visible and accessible, although Newman’s Own, a company that gives 100% of its after-tax proceeds to charity has been in the game since 1982.
TOMS Shoes is the first company that comes to mind when thinking of companies that use the buy-one-give-one model. Many companies followed suit, including clothing brands, shoe companies, eyewear companies, and even meal-sharing programs. There is some controversy surrounding the model, as some claim that giving away goods only perpetuates poverty and may negatively impact local businesses.
However, investigating the business model further, The Wharton’s Social Impact Initiative states that “randomized control trials have shown us that giving away some products – malaria bed nets, for example – maximizes positive impact. We have a lot to learn about how to maximize impact to promote well-being and combat poverty.”
Although TOMS was the first brand to use the buy-one-give-one model, the company is evolving to include grants comprised of one-third of its net annual profits. The company is also committed to being more sustainable and is a Certified B Corporation.
Choosing environmentally conscious and sustainable brands is another way to become a more conscious consumer. In fact, consumers are defaulting to more sustainable brands. According to a study by IBM, “consumers are prioritizing those [companies] that are sustainable, transparent, and aligned with their core values when making these decisions. They're willing to pay more, and even change their buying habits, for brands that get it right.”
Of course, reducing carbon emissions, using recyclable materials, committing to reforestation, and avoiding air and ocean pollution should be standard. However, many companies going above and beyond for sustainability and environmentally sound products, and hopefully, more will in the future.
Recently trending, zero-waste companies are getting into the beauty, grocery, kitchen, and cleaning market. Net Zero Co., is a company that sells everything from bamboo cotton rounds to cute portable collapsible silicone coffee mugs to kitchen bundles with tons of items in between. They partner with Eden Reforestation Project which employs people in impoverished countries to plant trees to restore the land and lives.
Even Etsy has gotten into the sustainability scene, offsetting its carbon emissions by balancing it with positive environmental impact. A marketplace for handmade goods and vintage items, Etsy is the perfect place to practice conscious consumerism.
Seek out companies that take care of their employees, make positive social improvements, and are committed to lessening their carbon footprint and improving the environment. Becoming a more conscious consumer will make an impact on the local market and incrementally make improvements to the world as a whole.