Being a Conscious Consumer Need Not Consume You by Gia Machlin, September 25 2013, 1 Comment

Conscious Consumerism

By now you probably know that I was not always a conscious consumer. To be precise, in the days Before EcoPlum (B.E.), I was quite an unconscious consumer. I used to shop for anything, anytime, with little to no regard for the environmental, personal health, or social impact of my purchases. I did not think about how much I was buying, let alone what the product was made of, how its ingredients might affect me or my surroundings, how it was packaged, and whether or not I really needed the product. It may be hard to believe, but this environmental advocate was at one time a consumerist hog.

After quite a bit of soul searching and of course a ton of awareness and education, I changed my wasteful ways and started buying less, researching the environmental and personal impact of my potential purchases, and understanding the social conditions of the workers who make the products I buy. I have advocated extensively for fair trade clothing, jewelry and food, safe cosmetics, organic clothing and food, non-toxic cleaning products and housewares. While building the shop at EcoPlum, I have curated all these types of products, along with those made of recycled and upcycled materials, and products that are made with environmental, socially responsible and health conscious practices in mind.

For a while after my “conversion,” I had zero tolerance for anything that did not meet my new standards. (What can I say? I’m a very passionate person!) I would scoff at anyone who bought bottled water. I stopped buying anything I didn’t truly need, bought only organic produce and meats, and used personal care products made with only the most natural and toxin free ingredients. I even made sure that my clothing was not made in sweatshops in developing countries.

Unfortunately, living this way is not very convenient and requires a lot of sacrifice. At times I became so obsessed with doing the ‘right thing’, that I was no longer thinking clearly. For example, if I was out with my daughter and we forgot to bring water (in a reusable bottle) and my daughter was thirsty, I refused to buy bottled water even if we could not find a water fountain or tap water nearby. My poor daughter had to go without drinking. What?? That’s not rational. Our planet’s plastic trash problem is not going to be effected one way or another by my occasional purchase of AquaFina® (but my daughter will probably be in therapy for a long time). So I started to relax my rules a little bit.

For example, I haven’t found a natural deodorant that I feel is strong enough for me. So rather than smell like a gym locker, I use an anti-perspirant product that may be causing harm to my body and sending toxins into the water supply. (Feel free to send me suggestions for a strong natural deodorant that works really well!)

Last summer, I didn’t say anything when my teenager went off to camp with shampoo and conditioner that I knew contained some harmful chemicals, because I realized that being a teenager is hard enough, and seven weeks of using this stuff was not going to kill him. And when I see that adorable sweater in the boutique window that fits perfectly and looks good with jeans, I may buy it even if it is not made of organic cotton or does not carry the fair trade label. I still use disposable tissues as I find hankies quite disgusting. You get the point.

If I didn’t allow myself these transgressions, I might find it hard to continue with my more conscious lifestyle and give it up altogether, and (heaven forbid!) go back to my wasteful ways from B.E. What’s important is that we make informed, conscious decisions, and understand the impact of our purchases on our health, the environment, and social justice. We should strive to do the best we can. We should spread the word, get involved and try to change regulation and policy. And, of course, celebrate all the great companies that make it easier rather than harder for us to make better choices.