Mindful consumerism is being aware of your purchases and how they affect the environment, the economy, and our society. An acronym often used in the business world to address these topics is ESG: Environment, Social, and Governance. ESG initiatives are ethical practices that companies can implement to make their business stronger and more sustainable.
You can become a mindful consumer by educating yourself on the items you buy and the brands you most frequently buy from. However, that’s much easier said than done, especially given rampant greenwashing in current marketing practices. It can be overwhelming to try and figure out which companies are actually making the commitments and which are using greenwashing to make more money, but not actually putting the effort in.
However, keep in mind that every little effort you make as a consumer to be more mindful counts. Small progress towards a more sustainable world is still progress in the right direction. It is key to keep this in mind in order to overcome climate anxiety and take action.
When you find an ethical brand or company, their morals ideally will align with yours, and they will have concrete examples of the changes they are making to try and prioritize sustainability. Looking at what a company is doing and how they are being mindful environmentally, socially, and in their governance can help you organize your own priorities and research!
BEING A MINDFUL CONSUMER: ENVIRONMENTAL
Environmentally-conscious consumers are mindful about avoiding fast fashion, buying items secondhand, and bringing their own bags when shopping. Research is the key element in making an intelligent and responsible purchasing decision. Sustainable materials, public ESG disclosures and policies, and sustainability certifications are great indicators of a sustainable company.
AVOID FAST FASHION
A large part of environmentally mindful consumerism is avoiding fast fashion. Fast fashion refers to the practice of large corporations producing huge quantities of trendy clothing items that are made cheaply, without any consideration of sustainability aspects. These clothes are made so quickly, frequently, and cheaply that consumers adopt the mindset that purchasing from these companies results in minimal impact. However, these pieces are never made with sustainability and durability in mind.
Purchasing numerous cheap items ends up being more expensive than if the consumer were to just invest in a more sustainable and durable product in the beginning. This results in supporting unethical brands and increasing their bottom line. An easy way to adopt mindful consumerism in your shopping habits is to purchase timeless pieces that are going to be worn frequently for a long period of time. Think twice about if you really need and are going to wear the latest cut-out dress from fast fashion brands such as Shein and Forever 21.
Consumers that want to be more environmentally conscious should consider buying secondhand items. When individuals buy items secondhand, it reduces the demand for new items. Buying used items can both significantly reduce the cost and reduce your personal impact and carbon footprint. Used items can be found at thrift stores and antique shops. If you are averse to buying things used, try purchasing items at an overstock store, or stores that sell goods from abandoned shipping containers and storage units. And, as a bonus, if you bring your own reusable bags, you can also decrease the demand for plastic bags, too!
BYOB: BRING YOUR OWN BAGS
By bringing your own bags, you can further decrease your carbon footprint when you shop. By incorporating reusable bags into a shopping routine, your few bags make an impact and decrease the demand for plastic bags. Plastic bags often end up in landfills and can take up to 1,000 years to decompose. In the process, they shed harmful microplastics that further pollute the environment. It is important to be conscious of our purchases and packaging because they can have long-lasting environmental impacts.
RESEARCH CONSCIENTIOUS BRANDS
Environmentally-conscious brands will often provide evidence of their sustainable efforts through their materials, certifications, ESG initiatives, or all of the above. It is important to be aware of brands that are involved in greenwashing. Greenwashing is when corporations advertise their products with sustainability buzzwords such as “green” or “recyclable” with no evidence or effort to back their claims. This practice is very frustrating for consumers wanting to buy sustainably because it can be hard to know which companies are worth supporting.
Research is useful to determine the true intent of a company and their mission. Greenwashing is also harmful because it undermines companies that truly put the time and effort in to combat climate change and incorporate sustainable practices. It can be challenging at times to discern the companies trying to capitalize on “sustainability” trends and companies who actually mean it. The good news is that, when you find a truly sustainable company, there is a good chance they also have ethical production practices.
Consumers should look for items that are ethically produced, ideally with environmentally-friendly materials. Common sustainable materials include hemp, silk, organic cotton, and our personal favorite, Econyl, a type of regenerated nylon.
BEING A MINDFUL CONSUMER: SOCIAL
The social impact of each item you purchase holds great significance, even though it may not always be clear to you in the check-out line. Consumers should support companies that treat their employees well, are small and local, and have responsibly-sourced materials.
INTERNAL EMPLOYEE WELLNESS AND CARE
A large part of the social impact a company can create is within their own company. It is valuable to know if the company you are supporting is treating their workers fairly. Fair treatment extends past financial compensation; it also encompasses happiness, wellness, and working conditions. Most big companies now publish reports that explain their benefits. Looking for company policies and benefits such as fair pay, paid time off (maybe even for volunteer work), human rights policies, and wellness initiatives can speak volumes about a company and their values.
SUPPORT LOCAL AND SMALL BUSINESSES
Supporting local businesses can be a simple way to help support a sustainable economy as a mindful consumer. Shopping local means there is no unnecessary or additional transportation cost or emissions associated with the product you are buying.
Companies across all industries can have a huge social impact through their supply chain as well. As socially-mindful consumers, it’s important to be aware that, if companies sell their clothes for too-good-to-be-true prices, it probably is too good to be true. If companies can make a profit on that price, then the material and labor that went into making that clothing is cheap. This means that the material was not made with care, not made to be durable, and the workers who made it were most likely not fairly compensated or even exploited.
Seen with this new perspective, do you still think that $10 shirt is worth it? Refusing to bend your morals to buy cheap trendy clothes can help alleviate vulnerable communities. Human rights should always be a priority for companies. Ensure the products you buy are not being produced at the cost of vulnerable communities by doing your research before buying and avoiding fast fashion brands.
BEING A MINDFUL CONSUMER: GOVERNANCE
Governance is the system and mechanisms by which an organization operates. It can be thought of in sustainability terms as accountability measures. When businesses engrain sustainable accountability measures into their governance, it’s a good sign they are trying to make changes for the better from the inside out. Two examples of ways companies integrate sustainable governance is through internal policies and circular economies.
Internal policies get a lot of negative press because some policies that are put in place don’t actually make a difference. However, a company with good governance ensures that these policies are followed. Many large businesses are only as large as they are because of good governance practices from the beginning. And when it comes down to it, that is what sustainability is all about: sustaining.
The private sector often has good governance because their growth is in part driven by good organization, policies, and enthusiastic workers. This means that policies that cover fair pay, human rights, and non-discrimination are essential. These companies must also follow all local and federal regulations that may or may not cover these topics. However, most companies have policies of their own. Some policies with sustainability in mind include sustainable purchasing policies, overall sustainability policies, donation policies, wellness policies, transparency policies, anti-corruption policies, anti-bribery policies, and more. ESG disclosures are another way for companies to be open with their business partners and consumers. These are already mandatory in some countries and may become mandatory in other countries soon.
A circular economy model is one where no waste is created. As conscious consumers, we need to purchase with the intent of this circular economy in mind. We can shift our mindset by repairing products that are damaged when possible instead of buying new ones. And when a product does reach the end of its life (hopefully many years after its initial purchase), consider recycling or upcycling the item.
Recycling is breaking the product down into smaller parts to be dispersed into new products or biodegradable. Upcycling is turning the initial item into something worth more value. Both these practices reduce waste and pollution and support a more sustainable economy. A completely circular economy can be extremely challenging, but there are companies across the world in different sectors striving for it. Once it becomes a sustainable part of a company’s supply chain, it saves money and also helps the planet.
☼ ☼ ☼
Businesses affect the environment, society, and our economy. Our job as mindful consumers is to find and invest in companies that have a positive impact on all aspects of ESG and sustainability. And we don’t have to “invest” with much capital; all it takes is some research into who you give your money to, and purchasing with care.
Fast fashion can be hard to avoid, but it is not impossible. Mindful consumerism extends further than just the fashion industry; mindfulness is important to all facets of life. Knowledge is power, and a large part of being mindful is doing research before we impulsively purchase more. Armor yourself with thorough research to avoid being manipulated by companies that are guilty of greenwashing.
It feels much more satisfying to purchase durable pieces from brands and companies you feel good about rather than cheap pieces that you may feel guilty about that will most likely be made at the cost of vulnerable individuals. These pieces are also much more likely to become defective after a handful of wears and not be backed up with a satisfaction policy. Practice more awareness when it comes to company governance and the circular economy. Resist the impulsive urge to acquire more, and instead be grateful for and repair the clothes and other items you do have.
It is easy to fall into a “more is better” mindset, but you may find yourself much happier with less. It is best to invest more initially and to pay up for long-term durability and to support ethical companies, rather than impulsively buy a lot of cheap items that won’t last long or even be used. Through reflection, research, and awareness, we can all be mindful consumers.
Written by Neesha Basnyat - Sustainability Writer for Koraru
Neesha Basnyat is a an experienced sustainability writer and researcher specialising in biology, sustainability, CSR, and ESG analysis and reporting. With an educational background in Biology and Environmental Science and over 6 years of experience in the sustainability field, Neesha loves everything green, from shoveling compost to calculating emissions or researching the best new standards in the sustainability space.