Be a Conscious Consumer

Self Reliance

Believe it or not there's more to your purchase decisions than size and color.

Being a considerate shopper when making purchases, puts you in control of the way your money is used and ultimately the political, environmental and social issues you financially support.

Like a chewing gum company's connection to petroleum extraction, and the fashion industry's toxic dye pollution in waterways; everyday purchases have a grueling toll on planet Earth.

We live in a hyper-consumer nation, where we buy things with non-functional purpose to help shape our identity, and feed our pressure to conform to a capitalist society.

What does that mean? Well, think of Christmas. Christmas in America has always been a quintessential symbol of "making it", where many people strive to obtain the experience, even when it's outside of their means.

It's clear we have visceral desires to buy things based on emotions.

My grand mom for example, gave my siblings and me Christmas, EVERY YEAR, because my parents were practicing members of the Nation of Gods and Earths. She couldn't fathom the idea of watching us grow up without Christmas.

As a child, she probably didn't have a dreamy Christmas with the ornate trees, and gifts spread across the living room floor. But I'm sure she saw Sears and Roebuck ads, and Macy's advertisements that gave her a peek into the 'perfect' Christmas.

Without even realizing it, my grandma's perception and even motivation was skewed by marketing gimmicks that use psychology studies to tap into human behaviors and provoke us to buy things.

Today, my grandma lives in the corner row home of a NW DC neighborhood. She's always prided herself in the nice clothes she wears, and if any one of her five grand kids ask for something, she's sure to get it for us.

As much as I love my grand mom, her spending habits are rooted in having to 'prove' her self.

This competitive consumption is a fight we all battle everyday. Why do we show out, when it's time to go out? (Jeezy) Or "out do" ourselves when it comes to preparing family dinners. Who are we really competing with?!?

The answer is ourselves.

It's totally fine to want to better than the last time, but at the expense of what?

These behaviors can be reviewed in the 'happy/damo ratio' to determine the true cost of our purchases.

Gifford Pinchot II, founder of sustainable-MBA focused Pinchot University, came up with the happy/damo ratio which is the happiness created by an activity divided by the damage created by that activity.

Let's go back to my example of Christmas.

It's a great time to see family and enjoy great food, but what's the true cost of Christmas. Cost isn't just the dollars spent on the presents, foods, travel and such; but what about the social, environmental and physical costs of Christmas?

Here's a happy/damo ratio for Christmas.

Visiting Family, Eating food, taking a break
__________________________(divided by)____________________________
waterways polluted due to the manufacturing industry, cheaply made decorations with short life spans (doomed for the landfill), cardboard and Styrofoam packaging taking up large amounts of landfill space, sweatshop production and the health risk of laborers, high demand work schedules for factory workers that are making items to match the holiday demand, oil consumption for distribution, carbon extracted for travel, air pollution...

So what's the true cost (financial, social and environmental) of your future purchases?

Here's 7 questions to answer before buying stuff.

  1. Do I need it or can I live without it?
  2. Why am I compelled to make this purchase? Am I doing it for superficial reasons?
  3. How will it add value to my life? Will this help me fulfill a goal, activity or challenge?
  4. How was this product manufactured? Were there underpaid workers involved?
  5. How did it get to me physically? Was it shipped using fossil fuels, was it shipped overnight on a private jet?
  6. What are the environmental sacrifices for my purchase?
  7. What will I do with it at the end of it's life cycle? Can I reuse or recycle this item?

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  • Charlotte on

    I love the way you think. You write in such a clear fashion. Even an illiterate like me can understand and see the problem. Thank you for opening my eyes and making me think. PS I’m older than your Grammy and I have a different skin color. Keep doing what you are doing.

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