Hey fellow conscious consumer! I have to tell you something.
The weight of the world is not on your shoulders, and conscious consumerism isn’t gonna save the world.
I know, this probably sounds hypocritical coming from someone who blogs mostly about conscious consumerism. Although I do believe that thinking critically about the things we buy and what kind of practices we support with our dollars is important, I’m worried that there’s too much emphasis on individual actions within the conscious consumerism movement.
Yes, where we spend our money matters—it’s important to support businesses and organizations working towards more ethical and sustainable practices, and to question how we are complicit in larger systems of labor and environmental exploitation. It can also be empowering to know you are making an informed, better decision when you buy something made sustainably and ethically.
But it’s not the only or most effective way to create change, and we as conscious consumers shouldn’t feel like the burden of saving the world rests on our own individual lifestyle choices.
I know that this mentality can become draining and overwhelming; over the past year or so, I’ve become hyper-critical of my own consumer choices and have at times been overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness as I discover yet another horrible social or environmental impact of a product that I buy. This is a feeling I’ve discussed with fellow ethical lifestyle bloggers and friends, who have felt the pressure of conscious consumerism impact their mental health as well.
And the thing is, as conscientious about my purchases as I can be, it’s impossible to be a perfectly ethical or sustainable consumer. In a world where corporations have limited accountability and supply chains are murky, how can you, a single human being, possibly vet every single item you consume for its impact on the earth and other people?
You can’t, and you shouldn’t feel like you have to.
Take, for example, the rhetoric related to environmental issues. Most of what we read and hear tells us that if we all do “our small part,” we can make a difference. However, this logic neglects the fact that 100 companies are responsible for 71% of the world’s climate emissions. To achieve the change that we need, we need government action to hold corporations accountable for their impact on the environment. (Want to know more about how we can combat climate change in the next 12 years—before it’s too late? Check out this article.)
There are ways beyond conscious consumerism and individual actions to push for the better world that you believe in. Collective action and organizing to push for policy changes, donating to organizations, and volunteering in your community are just a few of the ways you can broaden your impact as an individual, and use your time and energy towards creating a better world. Buying consciously or boycotting unethical goods can be powerful strategies in larger movements, but you shouldn’t feel that the fate of the world rests on your individual moral choices or that you are in this alone.
Conscious consumerism should complement your activism, not be your activism, and this is a balance I’m trying to find.
Some of the ways we can work towards change, beyond conscious consumerism, include:
- Donating to an organization doing work you believe in. For example, to help support ethical practices in the fashion industry, you could donate to the Garment Worker Center, which advocates for low-wage garment workers’ rights in Los Angeles. Your money then goes directly to supporting the collective power of workers, instead of indirectly through a company that may or may not have shady practices that are often impossible to evaluate thoroughly. (Read more about the Garment Worker Center here!)
- Engaging in civic action such as voting, organizing, and protesting. Take the time to research each candidate and policy when you vote, especially in local elections when your vote has the most impact. Although individual actions do have a small impact, the fastest and most powerful way to enact change is through collective and political action. Our elected officials have so much more power than we do as individuals to effect widespread change, so let’s put the pressure on them and not just the lifestyle choices we make. Show up for Election Day on November 6th, especially if you live in a contested district or state!
- Supporting working class people everywhere, including in your own community and country. Often, ethical fashion can take on a savior-y tone—how many ethical fashion brands start with a white person taking a vacation to Latin America or Africa and realizing they could help the people there by employing them to make bags/shoes/clothes? That’s not to say these brands aren’t doing good, but the focus on labor abroad means we forget that there are workers in our own countries who are underpaid, work in dangerous conditions, and struggle to support their families, including garment workers (one of the largest hubs of garment manufacturing is Los Angeles, which has a problem with wage theft).
How do you balance your conscious consumerism with your activism?
- I love this article by ethical and sustainable fashion journalist and blogger Alden Wicker, which explains why conscious consumerism isn’t going to change the world, and how you can do things that will.
- In light of the recent UN report that revealed we only have 12 years to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celcius—or face the worldwide devastation that would cause, here’s an article on the systemic changes we need to advocate for now.
This post was not about shopping ethical fashion, but that’s still fun and if you happen to be interested in my outfit, here are the deets:
Until next time!