Conscious Consumption: why you should think about it. By André Carvalhal

October comes with the Day of Conscious Consumption in it. I find it very symbolic that this date falls together with Teacher’s Day since, for me, consciousness has everything to do with information, education, knowledge, and with shedding light upon a certain subject. We have been hearing more and more about conscious consumption with several different approaches, but ultimately what kind of consumption can truly be called “conscious”?

As an educator and writer, on this date I felt like sharing some insight on the idea that can help us deduce an answer. There is still a lot of information lacking. Anyone who has some exposure to conscious consumption knows that all forms of “conventional production” are linked to the devastation of the environment and the exploitation of many people, from those who produce to those who buy. Therefore, buying anything has an impact on the planet that can be positive or negative.

The Industrial Revolution oriented society’s drive towards companies, products, and profit. After that, we were never again the same. Industrial society isolated us from the natural world, severing our connection with other beings and the notion that we are Earth conscious. We abandoned the link between the minute and the immaterial. Within two centuries, the capitalist system completely transformed the world and our lives. Despite the many technological innovations derived from it, the “needs” of a nascent consumerist class led to numerous problems. 

Consumption was sold as a gateway to happiness. People were encouraged to buy more than necessary, and yet however much they bought they remained unhappy. Consumption entrenched itself as consumerism and caught people in an ever deeper level of anxiety. As they grew richer, the more exhausted, dependent, and depressed they became.

The system as a whole needs to change and we have the responsibility to do that. Until we rethink the act of consuming and reassess our supposed “needs,” there is no conscious consumption. Before consuming, we must ask where this “need” comes from. We must question whether there are other forms of resource access that do not stimulate further unconscious production, such as renting, exchanging, fixing existing products, borrowing, and even do-it-yourself. 

But the responsibility to consume consciously is not just that of the general population. Many people have not been informed about these ingrained cultural tendencies, and probably many more live without the chance to choose what they consume. Production needs to change so that consciously-made products are available. It is thus crucial not only to “question oneself,” but also to demand from companies the truth of how their products are made, where they come from, where they will go at the end of their life, and what the impacts of this are.

Thinking from this perspective, conscious consumption would entail a process of co-responsibility in which people are certain of the impacts of their choices. The only possible way to establish a conscious consumption dynamic is through questioning and transparency, the source of consumer knowledge. Instead of communicating isolated actions and incidents, it is fundamental for companies to communicate the impacts and improvement metrics of what they plan to do.

Questioning is also a way of identifying who is actually moving towards more conscionable models. I cannot deny that there are many people (and companies) on the move, experimenting with new paths. The quest for sustainability is a long journey that needs to start somehow. Small initiatives can indeed be genuine and the beginning of a transformational moment, a transition. 

However, it is very important to understand — and by questioning make companies understand — that change needs to be systemic: it must consider the impacts of processes as a whole alongside new paradigms of creation, production, and consumption that protect the Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community wellbeing. This requires thinking about products that are truly relevant to people and life-affirming. We can no longer fool ourselves into believing that the solution is to create just one or another sustainable product.

All products must be people and life-centric, with a conscious and loving attitude in the selection of raw materials, production processes, storage, and distribution, factoring in the impacts they cause on the environment and the local community.  It is essential to change structures, change the system, reinvent material culture, and pursue innovative and transgressive systems. Above all, to question. 

André Carvalhal is a consultant and writer, author of the best sellers “Como Salvar o futuro”, “Moda com propósito”  and “Viva o fim – Almanaque de um novo mundo”, a finalist for the 2019 Jabuti Award. @carvalhando

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