Conscious Consumerism Is Not Enough. What Are You Really Doing to Change the World?
- by Contributor
- Mar 1, 2017
Lately, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen my thoughts on the effectiveness of obsessing over individual lifestyle choices. I’ve summarized them this morning for Quartz, a smart publication by The Atlantic. This post, a continuation of my popular post from last year called “The Big Lie of Conscious Consumerism” may seem like a disavowal of the very core of what EcoCult is about. OK, it kind of is. But I can tell you that I will still provide you content and information on how to personally make better decisions that are in line with your values. However, I will also be sharing with you ways you can take action to support policy decisions and systemic change. So: buy this non-toxic skincare, but also donate to the Environmental Working Group. Or: Offset the carbon from your flight, but also attend a town hall meeting to ask your representative about climate change. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
As a sustainable lifestyle blogger, my job is to make conscious consumerism look good. Over the course of four years Instagramming eco-friendly outfits, testing non-toxic nail polish brands, and writing sustainable city guides, I became a proponent of having it all—fashion, fun, travel, beauty—while still being eco-friendly. So when I was invited to speak on a panel in front of the UN Youth Delegation, the expectation was that I’d dispense wisdom to bright young students about how their personal purchasing choices can help save the world.
I stood behind the dais in a secondhand blouse, recycled polyester tights, and a locally made pencil skirt, took a deep breath, and began to speak. “Conscious consumerism is a lie. Small steps taken by thoughtful consumers—to recycle, to eat locally, to buy a blouse made of organic cotton instead of polyester—will not change the world.”
The audience looked back at me, blinking and silent. This was not what they expected.
Where we got it all wrong
According to the lore of conscious consumerism, every purchase you make is a “moral act”—an opportunity to “vote with your dollar” for the world you want to see. We are told that if we don’t like what a company is doing, we should stop buying their products and force them to change. We believe that if we give consumers transparency and information, they’ll make the right choice. But sadly, this is not the way capitalism is set up to work.