Week 8: Buy Smarter

When we initially hear the term “Buy Smarter” our minds tend to think about buying good quality products (at least mine does) but that is not necessarily all that Buying Smarter means. This week we are going to talk about what it means to Buy Smarter from a sustainability perspective.

What Does It Mean to Buy Smarter?

Phrases like conscious consumptionsustainability and social responsibility are often used synonymously, but some of these phrases have carefully measured definitions, while others are a bit looser. Conscious consumption is an umbrella term that simply means engaging in the economy with more awareness of how your consumption impacts society at large. Shopping sustainably, with the intent to preserve the environment, is one way to consume more consciously.

Kristin Wong, How to Be a More Conscious Consumer, Even If You’re on a Budget, New York Times
Photo by Edward Howell on Unsplash

To buy smarter we must make conscious decisions about our purchases. And not just cost-savings decisions; we need to look at the impact our purchase is having on the economy, society, and environment.

We need to look at the type of waste the product will become – is it biodegradable/inert or non-biodegradable/toxic? Non-biodegradable/toxic products will have a much worse impact on our environment.

We need to look at the impact that producing the product is having on society and the economy. Where is the item produced? Who produced it? Were the employees who made this item treated fairly and paid proper wages?

We need to consider how the item is going to be used. Is it something trendy that will be used for a short amount of time and then thrown away? Is it a lower-quality item that won’t last long and end up in the landfill? Is it something we will use often or could we possibly borrow the item from someone for short-term use?

But as Carol Davis, Blacksburg’s Sustainability Manager, notes: The deck is stacked against us. Advertising tells us that it is better to have more and new. We are told that disposability and planned obsolescence are features of the product, not something we should be concerned about. A “green” product may not be as “green” as we think it is – many companies are putting great effort into appearing to be interested in protecting the natural environment when they are not (“green-washing“). Non-green options are ubiquitous, convenient, and usually less expensive because prices do not reflect the environmental and social harm produced by the product. And researching the best, most “green” options is challenging (to say the least) and would be a full-time job.

Why Should We Buy Smarter?

As an individual, it may be hard to see the benefits of being a conscious consumer. What does buying organic soap or boycotting a company known for using sweatshops do in the long run? But adding up each person’s actions equates to big changes in the grand scheme of things. 

The same logic applies to harmful behavior such as littering. A person might be ok with throwing a candy wrapper on the sidewalk, but imagine if every single person had this attitude. Many parts of the world already have to deal with more waste than they know what to do with. 

Plus, consumer opinion and individual action trigger exponential change! The reality is that for many of us, price is the determinative factor in our purchasing habits by necessity. 

But, when individuals consume (or choose not to consume) with impact in mind, industry responds to meet consumer demands, and this expands accessibility. With access to more information and more product choices, more people are given the opportunity to weigh in on the ethics and standards of our day to day consumption. 

Jennifer Nguyen, Conscious Consumerism: What It is, How It Can Affect Change & 10 Ways You Can Be a Conscious Consumer Yourself
Photo by Jasmin Sessler on Unsplash

Buying smarter allows us to be part of the solution, not the problem. We are healthier – eating more whole foods and less processed, pre-packaged foods and exposing ourselves to fewer toxins. We save money – by not buying stuff we don’t need and buying better quality products that last longer. We have a smaller footprint on the world – less waste and eco-conscious decisions leads to a smaller impact on the environment. We lead by example – demonstrating market demand and building a vocal constituency for systemic change.

Learn More!

This week we will talk about different ways we can buy smarter. Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook to keep up with the discussion!

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