No one can deny that there is an increasing demand for transparency in the world of consumerism.
In our digitally advanced, digitally enhanced lives, the open nature of the internet means there is a plethora of information readily available at our fingertips, taking just a few clicks to find the answers we need. As a consequence of the democratisation of almost everything, we expect individuals and brands to be upfront and honest.
So now customers are plagued with campaigns and slogans at every turn, reminding them to make a conscious choice, choosing and consuming products that have been made using environmentally friendly practices and sustainable sources. It’s almost as though every single brand is “green” and “mindful” that greenwashing has become the norm, with the likes of huge corporations like Nestle all jumping on the “eco” bandwagon.
However, the truth is, that that people are awakening and are considering how their choices impact other people and the environment. It’s hard to ignore the fact that industries are slowly becoming more eco-conscious and adopting more sustainable practices. It may be in order to meet the demands of consumers rather than an innate values change, but it’s fair enough right? That’s business. Meeting demand with supply.
But before we start proclaiming ourselves to be ‘conscious consumers’, it’s essential to know what it means to be one.
So what is a conscious consumer anyway?
Firstly, a conscious consumer is someone who looks beyond the façade of the advertising and asks questions about the origins and the true value of the product and then critically evaluates these data points before making a decision to purchase.
Important issues like fair wages, genetic modification, and environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, and responsible farming practices are at the forefront of the consumer’s mind. Serious matters such as human trafficking, overproduction of goods, and the support of counterfeit goods may also be considered.
A shopping trend, not a shopping mainstay… yet.
There are still many consumers who are unaware of how their purchasing habits affect the environment or communities in faraway lands.
The fact that the fashion industry is the second most environmentally polluting industry, after oil, is never expressed well enough to the mainstream shopper. In her piece 8 Ways to Embrace Sustainable Fashion Without Going Broke, Amber Brown explains how millennials are still being seduced by a superficial culture built around trends, instant gratification, peer approval and social status.
The bulk of the population don’t realise that the rapid consumer demand for fast fashion is the reason why production houses continue to supply cheap environmentally detrimental goods, relying heavily on mass production to do so.
Ask a normal shopper how much water it takes to produce cotton and they’ll think you’re playing a game of Trivial Pursuit. Having done their homework, most conscious folk get this answer correct; it takes 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton, typically only enough to make one t-shirt and a pair of jeans.
And then there’s the issue of synthetic chemicals. The question “where did you get that from?” is one you hear often in fashion circles. Rarely do people ask “so do you know if synthetic chemicals were used in its production?“. But perhaps they should. Because the fact is, there are chemicals, up to 8,000 different ones, that are used in the process of turning raw materials into a garment.
In places where there are no sustainable water treatment facilities, the harmful chemicals and its waste products are disposed into the surrounding waterways. This practice of disposal has such disastrous effect on those who live of these polluted water sources, both plants, animals and even the people who live there.
It is encouraging though, to know that despite all of this, the level of consciousness among consumers globally is steadily increasing. The ‘revolution’ has begun with consumers demanding for greater transparency in supply chain processes, boldly questioning the authenticity in the origins and sources of their products.
Conscious consumers are triggering a social and cultural change, simply by asking more questions and seeking truthful answers.
Eco-consciousness is “in”
While some independent and forward-thinking brands are quietly adopting eco-friendly practices and product lines, the fashion industry as a whole seems to be making a statement. Many well-known brands are slowly taking steps to change the negative image of their business model and instead are more open to being a part of the solution. H&M for example, has initiated its “Conscious Collection” label featuring organically produced and recycled fabric materials.
So although we know that the majority of the population is still unconscious these are positive signs that give hope.
If you aren’t already embracing mindful consumerism, why not start by picking a cause that you’re passionate about and shopping brands that support your chosen cause. You don’t need to throw out your entire wardrobe or “cleanse” your home from products that are not ethically made. Just start with analysing what most important to you and go from there.
For example, if you’re concerned about the chemicals used in cotton farming and the destruction it causes, then choose a brand that uses organic cotton and supports sustainable and eco-friendly agricultural systems.
The key here is keeping your eyes, mind, heart and questions, open. Knowing what and why you’re buying something and where is has come from, and the amount of labour that has gone into producing it is what enables conversations about being sustainable to be carried forward.
This is what it takes to be conscious.
And although it may seem that businesses are greenwashing merely for advertising and promotional purposes, the conversation shouldn’t be ignored. That the topic is even on the agenda should be celebrated.
So let’s keep these conversations going – with ourselves, with our friends and family and with our wider networks. At a critical time in human history, widespread global consciousness is needed if we want to positively shape our future.