By Guest Contributor: Justin Snyder
Editors Note: Justin is an audacious Lawyer-Turned-Entrepreneur living in Austin, TX. Below is the beginning of his story of how he planned to make every effort to become a truly conscious consumer for one year. We hope you will draw inspiration and practical advice from his story for your own conscious journey.
So I started the blog. Told the internet that for one entire year, I’m setting out to be THE conscious consumer. Boldly claimed to want to change the world. Now what?
9 days down, 356 to go. I picked up energy-saving lightbulbs. Had quinoa salad at the perfectly-named Conscious Cravings down the street. Dahlia Green Cleaning, “the first worker-owned cooperative in Austin that specializes in green cleaning,” gave our messy house a spotless, eco-friendly start to the year. I even bought wild blueberry pistachio health bars called This Bar Saves Lives (seriously) which provides a packet of life-saving food to a child in need called “Plumpy’Nut” (which apparently is a thing) for each bar sold.
In addition to positive feedback and suggestions, I’ve also gotten a lot of questions. Are you going vegan? Will all your clothes be fair trade? How about a compost in your back yard? Just how far are you taking this?
In just one week, I’m already faced with dozens of decisions regarding what and how to consume. It can be pretty intimidating. Take food for instance. At three meals a day—plus a generous allowance of late-night snacks, brunches, and linners—that’s around 1,200 food choices over the next year. But how conscious should I be? I could:
– stop eating candy and junk food.
– stop eating processed foods (cereal, bread).
– stop eating artificial ingredients.
– stop eating non-organic food.
– stop eating beef.
– stop eating all meat.
– stop eating fish (and shellfish).
– stop eating dairy products.
– stop eating vegetables that I didn’t grow myself.
– stop eating all together.
And that’s just one of the things we spend money on. What about everything else?
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” – Alan Lakein
Only eight percent of people who make New Years resolutions actually keep them. If I’ve got any chance of making it all year, I have to have a gameplan. So to help guide my decision-making over the next year, here are the ten principles (more guidelines than rules) I’ll follow for consuming and living more consciously in 2015.
1. The Grandfather Clause. Gotta start with an easy one. Anything owned or purchased before the start of the year doesn’t count. Those leftover steaks in the fridge? Fair game. That old sweater made of questionable cotton? Don’t ask, don’t tell. But the next time I need new groceries or want a new sweater, I’ve gotta play by the rules.
2. Have a growth mindset—small improvements are still improvements. Change doesn’t happen overnight. As long as what I’m doing is a little more conscious than what I otherwise would have done, then I’m happy. Maybe I’ll walk this time instead of driving. Hold the meat on that burrito. It doesn’t have to be the best alternative, but it should always be a better alternative.
3. Less is more—sometimes the answer is NOT to consume. Sure, that t-shirt says “You May Say I’m a Dreamer” and supports ending world hunger, but it’s $40—why not just write that on one of my old t-shirts and then donate to the Hunger Project? Advertisements constantly tell us that we need more; America is the land of overconsumption. We spend $24 billion each year on self-storage units alone! Fortunately, companies like Patagonia are taking the lead on curbing rampant consumerism, encouraging its customers to buy less—even if that means fewer sales. Jack Johnson sings it best—reduce, reuse, recycle. Nothing saves the world more than using less of it.
4. Think before you (trans)act, and do your research.
What activities can be considered “consuming”? Eating at a restaurant? That’s easy—both my wallet and my stomach consume there. Driving my car? It certainly consumes gas, as well as ozone layer. Playing golf? Even that consumes my time, and maybe I could choose an activity that uses less resources (water, chemicals to treat the grass, large machines to cut it), like donating my time to some cause. There could always be a more responsible alternative to consider, and where reasonably possible, choose.
Who and what is my consumption supporting? What’s this company do? Who are its employees? What do they do with the money? What causes, if any, does it support? I want to know where my dollars go, who is impacted by my decision. Other things being equal, I’d rather support the little guy than simply line some rich guy’s pocket. And if a company isn’t paying its employees what they’re worth, I’d rather spend my money with a company that does, so it can hire more fairly-paid employees.
Being an attorney teaches you a thing or two about research, but I was surprised at how little I dig to find most of these answers. There are organizations dedicated to business & charity ratings and reviews (like the Better Business Bureau, Corporate Critic, and Charity Navigator), and certification systems that demonstrate a company’s commitment to good (like having B-Corp status, or the legal Benefit Corp status). Good companies tell you their story, and make you a part of it. You get to know their owners, their employees, and the causes they serve. And when in doubt, Google it. I will start a resources page as the year progresses where any readers can go to find (or add to) any of the information I’ve been able to locate.
5. Be “lazy” when traveling—what will take me the least amount of energy? If I don’t really have to go anywhere, then I won’t. If I have to, I’ll walk (or run). If I can’t walk, then bike (as soon as I buy a bike—it’s on the calendar). If I can’t bike, then I’ll used shared transportation (public or private, like carpooling app RideJoy). If I can’t share a ride, then I’ll drive on my own. And if I can’t drive, then I guess I’ll fly. It’s MLK Day today, so think “if you can’t fly, then run, if you can’t run, then walk,” only the opposite and not nearly as powerful.
6. Prefer local. Local is fresher. Local is closer and quicker. Local is community. I love my Austin community, and want to get to know everyone I’m supporting. So whenever possible, I want local business, local food, local bars, and local causes. However, local isn’t driving to CVS & Wal-Mart to get things that you could have had shipped together to you on Amazon Smile (online shopping is far more energy-efficient than going to the store anyway). Some locally-based companies here in Austin like Dominican Joe (whose motto is “Drink Local, Think Global) even support an international cause, broadening the local community’s impact. Which brings me to #7…
7. Prefer companies with a cause. That’s great that your packaging is “made from recyclable materials” and all, but what are you really about? What’s your mission? And you say that you’re a company that cares, but do you put your money where your mouth is? TOMS sells coffee and shoes, but its about clean drinking water for all and improved living conditions. Whole Foods sells groceries, but its about sustainability, health, and community. I don’t want companies that try to be socially responsible to make more money. I want companies that make more money precisely because they’re more socially responsible.
8. Prefer the specific over the general. I’m an information & stats nerd. The more you can tell me about the good you’re doing the better. I’d rather hear “this purchase provides one meal to someone in need” than “proceeds from this purchase go to fight hunger.” I’d rather know that “this particular area or individual will benefit from this sale” than “5% of every sale goes to our do-gooder Foundation.” The more specifics I have, the easier it is to track. And who doesn’t like keeping track of things?
9. Don’t be “lazy” when it comes to charity. Volunteering is the purest way to contribute. But it can also be the hardest—everyone is busy, and sometimes causes (especially international ones) don’t necessarily lend themselves to volunteer work. So if I can’t directly be involved, then I’ll do my best to incorporate giving into my other activities. I would prefer a charity event that allows you to participate in the actual work that the organization does over a charity gala where we do the dancing and the money for the ticket does the real work. If I can’t be directly involved, then I’d prefer doing something for charity that also benefits me personally, like the Austin Gorilla Run (that supports mountain gorillas in Uganda, if you want to run it with me), over some bar crawl for charity, where the drinks add to my calories and the charity’s tab, which means less for the charity.
10. The only way to fail is to do nothing. I will make mistakes. I’ll hop in the car when I could have walked, I’ll go to a concert without any noble cause. I’ll buy the non-organic version because the organic ones are three times are expensive. I’ll forget to do my research and get called out for supporting a company that isn’t who they say they are. But I’ll be the first to admit that I messed up, and I’ll do my best not to do it again. To me, the only real mistake is being too afraid or proud to make them.
“Exercise your purchasing power as a consumer, volunteer and bring joy to those in need, and share your experiences, tell your stories, and inspire others along the way.” – Blake Mycoskie, Chief Shoe Giver of TOMS
If there was an 11th principle, it would be to spread the word about things I believe in. And I believe that consumers hold the ultimate power—if we support only the companies that are committed to changing this world for the better, then the other companies will either have to start changing the world too, or go under. So this blog is my way of spreading the word. You’ll hear about the companies and how to support their causes. You’ll hear about the bad ones and how to keep them in line. And together, we’ll causify everything. One act at a time.