It is common knowledge that individuals who live in the industrialised nations, often referred to as the ‘West’ consume more of the world’s resources than those living in the developing world. Americans for example, make up five percent of the world’s population but use a quarter of the world’s energy. “A child born in the United States will create 13 times as much ecological damage over the course of his or her lifetime than a child born in Brazil,” explains Dave Tilford of environmental organisation Sierra Club.
According to the Global Footprint Network, if everyone lived like Australians, we would need 5.2 Earths for every year of life (you can calculate your annual carbon footprint with these carbon calculators).
“The earth can provide for every man’s need but not every man’s greed” Mahatma Gandhi once said and this is especially true when we consider the limitations of our ecological world. With the population expected to rise to about 9.7 billion by 2050 and knowing that a finite earth cannot possibly support the infinite resource demands of consumers, businesses, governments and economies, we focus in on top ways you can consume less.
1. Buy only what you really need or want
Granted this is easy to say and harder to do when we live in an age of instant gratification, retail therapy and status-seeking identities that tie self-worth with trinkets and possessions. To make matters more complicated, not every person views ‘needs’ in the same way. Megan O’Malley makes this point in her recent piece on capsule wardrobes when she described her ‘need’ to have more wardrobe choices to creatively express through fashion, whereas capsule enthusiasts actively limit their closet sizes to a set number of pieces in their ‘need’ for wardrobe minimalism.
The key here is conscious intent when shopping. Buying on impulse rarely results in lasting happiness, rather, you end up discarding the item or have it cluttering space in your home. Shopping mindfully for the things that add value to your life is the goal, and with practice it will become second nature.
Pro tip: If you must buy, we recommend searching for second hand items first. The item is already in existence so no new resources will need to be dug up, farmed, or burned to create it. And if you really want to challenge yourself, we recommend trying out the Buy Nothing New Challenge.
2. Choose quality
Buy the highest quality item that you can afford. This should be made easier when you’ve stopped impulse buying and cultivated conscious shopping habits, because buying less stuff means you’ll have saved more. With this extra income you should now be able to afford higher quality items that have been built to last.
How do you know if you’re purchasing a higher quality item and aren’t just paying a higher price for a mediocre item that will break too quickly? Jump online and do a quick search to determine the reputation of the company and its products. How is it manufactured? Where is it manufactured? Read customer reviews, Facebook reviews, blog posts and other information available to determine if there have been any major problems with the company or item. Ask around. If you come across mostly positive reviews, it should be okay to proceed with the purchase. It’s also generally a good sign if a business has been established a while and offers warranties and guarantees.
Pro tip: Additional shopping tips and advice can also be found here.
3. Learn to spot planned obsolescence
Planned obsolescence was introduced by businesses and manufacturers as a way of maintaining steady sales. Product lifespans became shorter so that consumer goods broke down faster, needing to be replaced or upgraded, and thus trapping the consumer into a never-ending shopping cycle. This system has been encouraged by business greed, technological advances, advertising and marketing.
Related Post: What’s Your Relationship to Stuff?
Fast fashion is a primary example of planned obsolescence. Fashion brands deliberately create trends in order to sell cheaply-made new collections that are introduced into their stores almost weekly. What’s not ‘in’ is deemed ‘out’ and are disposed and discarded. The smartphone is another example of planned obsolescence. You purchase an iPhone, and within a year, the new, seemingly better version is introduced. Even though your phone is in good working order, you decide you want the new one because it has [insert shallow justification here].
Once you become more aware of the motivations driving businesses and the advertising and marketing tactics used to entice you to purchase new things, you’ll start to see it all around you and you’ll get better at avoiding playing into their hands.
Pro tip: For further reading on this topic, you’ll love this this insightful article, ‘How Advertising Has Contributed to Wasteful Consumption‘.
4. Ditch disposable items
Stop for a moment and consider this:
How much human energy and labour, mining of minerals, farming of materials, mixing of chemicals and burning of fossil fuels did it take to to produce that disposable item?
Once you understand that precious resources and non-renewable energy have been used up for an item that only exists for a moment or a handful of times, you too will be disgusted by the complete waste of it. So ditch paper napkins, plastic straws and other single-use items that clog up our landfills.
Pro tip: To help you ditch single-use items, follow the steps in this post: ‘20 Steps to Plastic-Free Living‘.
5. Switch to reusables
A perfect segue to our next point: switch to the reusable version of those disposable items.
Pro tip: Rather than reinventing the wheel here, we recommend you check out our guide ‘22 Steps Closer to Zero Waste Living: Disposable Items to Stop Buying Right Now‘ which outlines 22 alternative solutions to help you make the switch from disposables to reusables.
6. Borrow or hire
Owning is so last century. Why buy when you can borrow or hire? From library books and magazines, hardware tools and toys through to bags and dresses, you can now spend a fraction of the price (or spend zero money at all!) and still enjoy some novelty in your life – all without having to use up more of the earth’s precious resources. So join a library or toy library, borrow items from friends and family, or rent that new (used) dress from Rent the Runway.
Pro tip: It’s tempting to justify purchasing and owning, but remember that if you’re only going to use it once or on the odd occasion, it’s better to borrow than own.
There are digital versions of books, magazines, cards and even flowers now. There’s also email, apps and other online tools to help you pay bills, receive bills electronically, track your fitness and help you work in a paperless environment. So reduce your impact and choose electronic instead.
Pro tip: While we’re on the topic of electronic items, check out these apps and online tools that will help you reduce your carbon footprint.
8. Don’t forget the R’s
Last but not least, a post about consuming less wouldn’t be complete without reminding you about the essential R’s of sustainable living: reduce, repair, recycle, repurpose and reinvent.
Love these tips? You’re gonna love our 12-page Sustainable Lifestyle Guide that lists 101+ tips on how to live more planet-friendly. Just subscribe to our newsletter here.
Now we want to know: What are you doing to consume less? How are you reducing your footprint? Feel free to share your tips below.