The Conscious Consumer 

Eco friendly consumer with sustainable shopping habits tiny person concept. Environmental care with reusable and green product choices vector illustration. Buy responsible and ecological groceries.
Key Takeaways:
  1. While many like to identify themselves as “Conscious Consumers,” the degree to which this is practiced daily varies widely.
  2. There is no single “recipe” to easily become a “Conscious Consumer.” It necessitates individual thoughtfulness about the chain of events connected to every purchasing decision one makes.
  3. Besides every dollar spent, every dollar saved or invested also has a deep impact on society that consumers should better understand as they make decisions.

With a pandemic, natural disasters, as well as global food insecurity hallmarking the beginning of the 2020s, there are plenty of questions as to how we can all make this decade and the ones to follow better for everyone. One way we can each play a part is with our everyday consumption choices. Consumers realize this more than ever and are becoming increasingly proactive in their product and lifestyle choices based on an elevated and deeper consciousness.

What is a Conscious Consumer?

A “Conscious Consumer” makes purchasing decisions that have positive social, economic, and environmental impacts. They vote with their dollar by buying ethical products and avoiding unethical companies. They will think whether consumption is necessary, and if they decide to buy, look at who is providing the product and how the product affects each environment touched in its creation and delivery.

Other characteristics of a “Conscious Consumer” include:

  • Making deliberate, informed choices instead of mindlessly buying items.
  • Demanding transparency from companies. Consumers will not hesitate to reject items that aren’t aligned with their values.
  • Realizing their purchasing and investing power and aspiring to improve the world with the dollars they spend. 

Who considers themselves Conscious Consumers?

According to a report by branding and marketing agency BBMG, nearly nine in 10 Americans say that the words “Conscious Consumer” describes them “well.” If products are of equal quality and price, a high percentage of consumers are willing to purchase products that are: energy efficient (90%), promote health and safety benefits (88%), support fair labor and trade practices (87%) and commit to environmentally friendly practices (87%).

However, while many naturally label themselves as “Conscious Consumers,” the degree to which this is practiced daily varies widely.

The cheapest price vs a fair price

The BBMG data describe consumer attitudes when goods are of equal quality and price. However, many consumers know that the cheapest price is not always the fair price. Workers who make an item may not have been paid fair living wages, or they may toil in unhealthy conditions. Waste disposal, water pollution, and other environmental concerns may have been sacrificed to bring the cheapest possible price. Consumers are becoming more conscious of this imbalance.

According to the Nielsen Global Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility report published in 2015, three out of four Millennials and 51% of Boomers (aged 50-64 at the time) said they were willing to pay more for sustainable products.

Superficial vs. systemic Conscious Consumers

One of the criticisms of statistics such as “90% of Americans identify themselves as a Conscious Consumer” is that it runs the danger of becoming a “superficial Band-Aid,” perhaps assuaging some guilt while not really tackling the root causes or systemic problems. It may be a gesture or a virtue signal that is essentially taking sporadic or minimal actions that make very little real difference.

Sustainable lifestyle blogger Alden Wicker writes in his Quartz article: “On its face, conscious consumerism is a morally righteous, bold movement. But it’s actually taking away our power as citizens. It drains our bank accounts and our political will, diverts our attention away from the true powerbrokers, and focuses our energy instead on petty corporate scandals and fights over the moral superiority of vegans.”

Several concrete examples Wicker provides to illustrate this viewpoint include:

  • “Instead of buying expensive organic sheets, donate that same money to organizations that are fighting to keep agricultural runoff out of rivers.”
  • “Instead of driving to an organic apple orchard to pick your own fruit, use that time to volunteer for an organization that combats food deserts (and skip the fuel emissions, too).”

Clearly, there is no simple one size fits all “cheat sheet” for what a truly “Conscious Consumer” is in his/her day-to-day life. It implies thinking through the deeper systemic social and ecological issues to see how one’s time and financial resources can be best allocated.

Conscious banking and investing

Even the seemingly straightforward choice of how one saves and invests his or her money has deep implications for society and the environment. Wall Street has its origins in trading slaves, and despite all the progress made in the past few centuries, there still remain formidable walls erected by current capital structures that perpetuate racial, gender, and other injustices. Banks leverage and multiply every dollar saved with them through loans, and some will then use this multiplied money to, for example, fund industries that are detrimental to the long-term interests of society. A “Conscious Investor” will therefore scrutinize the impact of where his or her money is saved, and how it is invested.

This is a simple summary of what is obviously a very deep topic that merits much further discussion. In future articles, we will look at how some of these ideas further apply to “Conscious Companies” as well as the many ways our food choices impact our own health and the health of our environment.