Becoming a Conscious Consumer

Photo by Fernando Martinez

Whether buying a gift for Valentine’s Day, or just making purchases in day to day life, how important is it to be a conscious consumer?  To think about the impact that our decisions have beyond ourselves?  How can we be conscious consumers in today’s materialistic culture?

These are questions that I’ve been struggling and wrestling with lately.  I definitely don’t have all of the answers, but here are some of my thoughts and ideas for how we can make more conscious and responsible purchasing decisions.

1.  Buy Used.

I’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s one of the biggest ways that I started to shift my mindset from a consumerist, materialistic mentality.  I used to think, “Why should I buy a used sweater for $5 at a thrift store when I can buy a brand new one for $10 at Target?”

But, buying used is not just about the actual money spent, it is about the resources saved, the reduction of manufacturing, production and packaging, the space in the landfill saved, as well as about the mindset of always having to have new things.

Buying used is the best way I have found to deal with the tension I feel of not wanting to buy items that are made under questionable circumstances, that hurt people through forced labor, or whose companies do not use sustainable practices. It is not a perfect answer the question, but it is the best I can come up with at this point.

While  there are definitely companies, and products, out there that are careful and conscious, those products usually come with a higher price tag.  If you’re on a tight budget, like we are, you just can’t always afford to buy the “best” thing in every situation.  So, I think buying used is a great alternative because the used item has already been made, resources have already been used, and I am not contributing to any further abuse of people, resources or the environment through my purchase of a used item.

2. Buy Fair Trade

There are many different categories of products that can achieve Fair Trade certification. You can be sure that when you purchase products bearing the Fair Trade label you are helping to improve communities around the world; the workers are fairly compensated, profits are reinvested into communities, and production must adhere to strict environmental standards.  It is one certification that encompasses all aspects of goods produced – the workers, the communities, and the environment.

Although Fair Trade does not cover every type of item that could be purchased, the list of Fair Trade products continues to grow.  Buying Fair Trade as often as you can is an important way to vote with your dollars, to tell companies that you think Fair Trade products are important and worth spending your money on, and encouraging more companies and stores to carry Fair Trade certified items.

Take a few minutes to visit Fair Trade USA and learn about the types of products you can buy Fair Trade, where to buy them, and how to be a more conscious consumer.

The main Fair Trade item that we buy right now is coffee.  A few years ago we watched the documentary Black Gold, and it changed the way we look at the coffee we drink.  For high commodity items like coffee and chocolate, it is important to know that what you are consuming and enjoying did not cause the abuse or exploitation of someone or something along the way to your home.

Photo by Tim Berberich

3. Buy Organic and Local

Although an Organic certification is not as all encompassing as a Fair Trade certification, it is still an important way to know that the products you are purchasing comply with environmentally responsible farming practices. Again, voting with your dollars buy purchasing organic products tells both farmers and retailers that it is important they provide products that are free of synthetic chemicals, pesticides, GMOs, etc.

Buying Organic can be challenging on a limited budget, I know that I am still working on figuring out how to buy the highest quality products while staying within our food budget.  The best resources I have found on this topic is Real Food on a Real Budget by Stephanie Langford of Keeper of the Home.  It is a comprehensive guide filled with ideas, tips and tricks for buying the best food for your family that you can afford.

While buying organic is important, sometimes organic foods are shipped from far away countries  (which is obviously not the most environmentally responsible way to purchase products), so sometimes buying local is more important than buying organic.  Make an effort to eat foods when they are in season locally, frequent your local farmer’s market and ask questions of the farmers. You may find that a local product is produced with many of the same standards as organic products, but without the actual certification and high price tag that goes along with it.

4. Check out other resources for Conscious Consuming

It is important to be as conscious of a consumer as you can, in as many different areas as you can, but sometimes it can all be a little overwhelming.  There are a few good tools I know of that are helpful in making purchasing decisions.

Free2Work – is a joint effort of the Not For Sale campaign and the International Labor Rights Forum.  They rate companies based on their policies toward forced and child labor.  Their ratings are not based on an environmental standards, but it’s still important to support companies who are taking the right steps to be sure that their products are free of forced and child labor.

Good Guide – I just recently found this site through the recommendation of a reader.  Although I haven’t spent a lot of time on the site yet, I like that it rates products and companies based on the health impact of the ingredients, the environmental impact of the production processes, and the social impacts on workers and communities.  I’m sure that the guide is not without some faults, but at least it is a starting point for getting a better idea of the impacts of products that we purchase and use every day.

Better World Shopping Guide – I just ordered this book from Amazon using my Swagbucks (Don’t use swagbucks yet?  Go here to sign up!), so I haven’t actually used it yet, but I’m excited that I can carry it in my purse and that it rates companies based on different categories including human rights, the environment and social justice.

Steady Home Deals – although this site is not currently being updated, I love the idea of it.  Providing notices of sales and deals from companies and on products that are produced in a sustainable way.  So keep an eye on it and hopefully they will be posting more deals soon!

Saving Naturally – Featuring natural and organic deals and coupons, not just for food, but for all different kinds of green products, this site will help you to save money while purchasing products that you feel good about.

What are your thoughts about conscious consuming?  How do you take steps to make sure that products you’re using and buying are helping, and not hurting, people, communities and the environment?

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Disclosure: There are a few affiliate links in the post.  If you make a purchase through one of these links I will make a small commission.  Thanks for supporting Live Renewed!


  1. says

    Maybe first ask yourself do I actually really, desperately, need a new (whatever it is)? But I guess that is obvious from the rest of your site. :-) And also buy reusable where possible.

    For gifts we sometimes ask people to use the gift catalogues you can get through places like World Vision, where you buy immunisation or a goat or a mosquito net for someone in a poor country who needs it, rather than a new xyz for us which we probably don’t need. One year we bought my grandmother a goat in Africa and for ages afterwards she would ask about “her” goat’s health! for example, I know other people do them too.

    Glad you like the Good Guide. I just found out on there that my hair conditioner is a whole lot more planet-friendly than I had expected, so I’m very pleased I don’t have to go out and find a new one!

  2. says

    Good list. I particularly like your point in #3 that you need to talk to the farmers because sometimes they’re using organic practices without the certification and being local means much less impact to the environment. I don’t think people realize how much of the premium price tag attached to organic products is specifically related to the bureaucracy associated with achieving and maintaining the certifications. As a livestock producer, we would have to pay an overall annual certification price AND an annual price per animal, not to mention all the recordkeeping, labeling, etc., then add transportation, advertising, packaging… We can sell the same product without the USDA’s label directly to the consumer from our farm or local farmer’s market for more than $0.50/lb less. The exact same product. We invite people to come out and see exactly how we do it if they have any questions.

    • Emily says

      Oh, I wish I lived closer to you and could come to your farm and see what you do and buy directly from you!
      I was just watching No Impact Man (a pretty good documentary) last night and they went and visited a dairy farmer who basically said the exact same thing. I think direct from the farm is definitely the best way to buy!


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