Believe it or not, Conscious Consumerism is not a new “fad”. We can trace its roots back to 1954 according to Grow Ensemble. “Economist James Buchanan stated that individual participation in the economy is a form of pure democracy” and thus the Conscious Consumer movement was born. As a result, this movement began as a means to protect workers. It also took into account the environments they worked within. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, the movement grew stronger as “unfair labor practices, ensure product safety, encourage healthy competition in the market and implement financial regulation” (Jennifer Nguyen).
As we approached the 1970s, even more proof that regulation and safety measures needed to be prioritized. With that in mind, research done by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 12.6 Million People die from environmental health risks every year. Evolving the movement further into a dire situation that impacted the safety of workers and their lives. Not surprisingly, the research on Climate Change and Global Warming became popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. This perpetuated the Conscious Consumer movement tenfold. Now, it wasn’t just about people, but the world…
It has been interesting to see the world’s perspective on this movement evolve. The intersectionality between climate change, women’s rights, race relations, and democracy have all played a role in shaping Conscious Consumerism. This Pandemic has also shaped this movement more recently, evolving the way that businesses and consumers sell and buy products & services. We are shopping online more, and also shifting our values to the safety measure being taken to keep products, people, and the workplace environment safe from COVID-19 – something most of us never thought we would see in our lifetime…The more we learn about consumerism, the more we evolve our consumer habits. When you shop your values, you are contributing to a historical movement to better our world.
If you are new to the Conscious Consumer movement, it can feel daunting to step into this space and understand where to begin. Right now, this movement is not only affecting consumer habits, but global production, product development, and marketing tactics for large corporations. Thus, small businesses are making a comeback. The ideology that “what we buy has a direct impact on our world” is crucial.
With that being said, before you pull your favorite deodorant off the shelf at the grocery store, or order more hand sanitizer in bulk online; Here are a few questions to ask your internal conscious consumer…
Where was this item made?
Consider where this company creates its product. Is it locally sourced or purchased? Well, this simple ask allows us to evaluate the carbon footprint this product may have on the world. According to Carbon Brief, “Around 22% of global CO2 emissions stem from the production of goods that are, ultimately, consumed in a different country.”
How was this item made?
What ingredients are found within the product you are looking to purchase. Are they harmful to the environment? This includes the packaging that your product may come in. Also, a simple philosophy to live by is “the less plastic, the better”. That includes avoiding polyester at ALL costs because this is a synthetic plastic material derived from crude oil.
Does this item harm or hurt the world in any way?
Well, some labels that you should be looking for are the Leaping Bunny Certification, Fair Trade, and the recycling symbol. These logos are located near the ingredients or on the main label of a product. As a result, they identify the ethics that went into creating said product and can help you evaluate companies that you can trust.
Does this item align with my values?
Ask yourself, what values do I want to uphold within my Conscious Purchase habits. Do you want everything you touch to be vegan? Do you want to be as eco-friendly as possible? Are you looking to reduce the amount of plastic you consume? Are you hoping to support less exploitation of workers? Lastly, make a list on your phone and use these values to make your purchasing decisions next time you go to the store or find yourself online.
Does this item fill a void or fill a need?
This question is more of an emotionally driven question that can intimate a lot of us. After all, consumerism is built on our emotional response to products. In the age of social media, there is even more of a pull toward wanting more, having more, and “needing more”. Therefore, slowing down to reflect on the “why” of your purchase can help you discern from truly needing something versus purchasing something to fill a desire or avoid. Lastly, it is no secret that purchasing things can give us a temporary mood boost. The keyword here is… Temporary. So, unless you are ready for another retail therapy hangover, we suggest you ask yourself this question next time you are looking for a “quick fix” with the help of your shopping cart. Be open. Be mindful. Be willing to ask the questions.
2020 started off with a conscious consumer bang. We were ready to dive into companies that cared about their employees, the environment, and their customers. We were looking forward to shopping at local farmer’s markets and supporting other local businesses.
Then COVID hit like a ton of bricks. We no longer had the time to seek out ethical companies. Local shops across the country were shuttered overnight with seemingly no reopening in sight.
So where does this leave the conscious consumer movement? This movement is still very important–the need for companies to still be held accountable and implement environmental practices is greater than ever. But in the wake of this global pandemic, the future of the movement is uncertain.
According to a study by Good Must Grow, most good consumer behaviors are trending up during the pandemic. People are reducing their consumption of energy and fuel, they’re buying more goods and services from socially responsible companies, and they are recycling and paying attention to how much waste they produce.
However, these changed habits don’t account for the fact that people are simply spending less on discretionary items than they were before. With unemployment skyrocketing in May and financial insecurity becoming a very real issue for many Americans, supporting the local gift shop or ceramicist doesn’t make a lot of financial sense.
This gets us back to the original question: is the conscious consumer movement going to survive the pandemic?
I don’t have all the answers, but I have some ideas. It seems like online shopping is the future. Compared to the last week of February (pre-pandemic), online sales were up 40% for the last week of May. More and more people are staying inside and shopping from their couch rather than venturing out to the nearest store. This makes sense. Less risk of exposure to coronavirus, more variety and options of products, and simply easier. The next step for online conscious consumerism is getting more small businesses online. By building an online platform, local businesses expand their customer base, reach, and, hopefully, sales.
From the outside, the conscious consumer movement can feel exclusive and expensive. But it doesn’t need to be. By expanding the online presence of conscious businesses (perhaps with a shop on Mindful Market), more consumers unfamiliar with conscious consumerism will be exposed to the movement and see its virtues.
The affordability question may be harder to answer. Consciously created products may be a bit more expensive, but that cost goes towards ensuring ethical business practices, sustainable materials, and peace of mind. But I don’t think this movement is sustainable in a business sense if aspects of it don’t become more affordable. I’m not saying everything has to be at Amazon prices or shipping speeds–that is simply not possible, nor should it be when using fair labor practices. But finding ways to make products more affordable, will allow them to be more accessible.
The conscious consumer movement is nothing unless it has a dedicated base of people who believe in and support it. I think there’s a great opportunity for the movement right now as things are reopening and consumption is probably going to increase. Making more conscious businesses accessible via online sales platforms is the first step towards continuing the momentum of the movement. The next step, albeit a bit harder, will be to increase the affordability of products sold by conscious businesses.
This movement is just beginning. People have shown they care about the values intrinsic to the conscious consumer movement. Spread awareness of this movement. Tell your family members who have never heard of it. Convince your friend to buy from a local business rather than Amazon. Think about where a product is coming from before you buy it.
Around this time last year, Burger King’s new, meatless Impossible Whopper was a sandwich celebrity.
Its debut was so successful that patty supplier Impossible Foods ran low on its fake beef. In St. Louis, Mo, the first city to experience the craze, Burger King foot traffic increased by 18.5% for April. And for 2019’s third business quarter, sales rose by 5% at Burger Kings that had been open for at least a year. This was the company’s strongest growth since 2015.
Counterintuitively, most of the customers behind this success weren’t vegetarians.
In fact, Burger King never marketed the Impossible Whopper towards vegetarians. Neither did Impossible Foods, which aims its fake meat at omnivores for a cause — the company hopes that by making ultra-realistic meat substitutes, it will make meat obsolete by 2035.
“I love vegetarians and vegans as much as the next guy,” said Pat Brown, founder, and CEO of Impossible Foods, “but that is not the customer we care about.”
Impossible Foods’ plan just might work, because according to research firm The NPD Group, a whopping (pun intended) 90% of people who eat fake meat also eat the real kind. The firm states that these customers appreciate having options. Many of them, especially Millennials, use plant-based meat alternatives to indulge without betraying health goals.
Why is it counterintuitive for meat-eaters to consume fake meat? After all, many people like to try new foods. It isn’t strange for non-Japanese people to like sushi.
Perhaps it’s because, until recently, mock meats haven’t tasted like their real counterparts. And because they were marketed as meat substitutes, people were disappointed. To buy them was seen as settling for less, although perhaps for a good reason.
The Impossible Whopper is different. Thanks to iron-containing heme, which makes meat taste meaty, it tastes like a real beef hamburger (whether it tastes like a Whopper, however, depends on whom you ask).
Living Ethically Requires Self-Discipline… Until You Make It Convenient
Unfortunately, going vegetarian (especially vegan) takes strength and courage… for now.
Food is so much more than nutrition — it’s a part of culture, a link to the past, and a powerful form of social bonding. As a result, renouncing meat, dairy, and/or eggs don’t just lead to withdrawal cravings; it can cause culture shock and loneliness. It’s no surprise, then, that only about 5% of Americans are vegans or vegetarians, which hasn’t changed much within the past three decades.
With little success, (ideological) vegetarians have long tried to convert meat-eaters. Most people aren’t persuaded by rational debate on emotional subjects like food ethics. And even when faced with horrific farm conditions and anthropogenic climate change, they assuage their guilt with denial, compartmentalization, and other mind tricks. The more uncomfortable it is to be ethical, the more likely people are to prioritize comfort.
That’s why the key to speedier progress in animal liberation, conservation, and the fight against climate change isn’t veganism; it’s displacing unethical products and services with more appealing alternatives.
This isn’t to say that going vegetarian or vegan is futile — far from it. By going vegan for a month, you could save 30 animals, prevent 620 pounds of CO2 emissions, and spare 913 square feet of forest. But most people won’t join you, and they’ll keep thwarting your causes until they change their behaviors for different reasons.
“Our products are going to get tastier, healthier, more affordable and better in every way, continuously into the far future, and the incumbent meat industry is just standing there, waiting for the tsunami.” — Pat Brown, CEO, and founder of Impossible Foods
It’s hard to believe that fake meat could ever replace the real kind on a mass scale, but similarly massive changes have happened before. Imagine if automobiles had been made to liberate horses. The intention wouldn’t have made a historical difference; in both that alternate universe and our real one, people wouldn’t have adopted cars out of compassion. Automobiles are simply better than horse-drawn buggies, and now they’re the default mode of travel.
While A Conscious Consumer Can Change Lives, A Conscious Business Can Shift Paradigms
Though I’ve focused this article so far on vegetarianism, the bigger point I want to make applies to conscious consumerism in general. Though individuals can do great good with their purchases, they can’t convince everyone else to shop with their criteria. And sometimes, this isn’t even due to personal weaknesses; equally passionate people can have competing ideologies.
That’s why no matter what the movement, conscious businesses have a massive advantage over conscious consumers – they can sell things to people who don’t care for their causes.
This approach to the conscious consumer movement can make everyone happy. Nobody likes to be told what to do, and nobody wants their cause to be stagnant. When ethical goods and services appeal to most people, society improves without a struggle.
Online retailers are seeing Black Friday-like sales due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their business. According to new data from Adobe’s Digital Economy Index, U.S. e-commerce jumped 49% in April, compared to the baseline period in early March before shelter-in-place restrictions went into effect. Source- Techcrunch.com 5/12/20
There is a lot of uncertainty in the air. Uncertainty breeds opportunity. I believe now is a great time for the conscious e-business.
What is a conscious business?
Conscious leaders believe that business is about more than making a profit. Conscious entrepreneurs view business as good, ethical, noble, and heroic. There is a universal truth that people aspire to mean & purpose. Conscious businesses care about all stakeholders in their ecosystem. Conscious leaders focus on “we” not “me”. They put people first which results in high levels of engagement, motivation, and commitment. Conscious businesses intentionally foster cultures with high levels of authenticity, integrity, and personal growth.
Facts prove that a conscious company is a much more profitable company because associates enjoy working and are more productive. Happy associates produce higher quality products & services, leading to happier customers and larger profits. So here are the facts:
Raj Sisodia, Co-Founder of Conscious Capitalism, looked at 28 companies he identified as the most conscious “firms of endearment”, as he termed them, based on characteristics such as their stated purpose, generosity of compensation, quality of customer service, investment in their communities, and impact on the environment.
18 publicly traded companies out of the 28 outperformed the S&P 500 index by a factor of 10.5 over the years 1996-2011.
A conscious business ethos typically transcends into the company’s web presence. You can feel the essence of trust, loyalty, fairness, and genuine caring within the web pages and social media channels of a conscious business. During this most interesting shift, we are all experiencing, this spirit will pay dividends. Combine a conscious business with the recent online shopping boom along with an expanding conscious consumer movement and you have a recipe for business growth and more importantly – increased impact.
The crisis will be the cure. Maintain focus on your purpose AND your customer’s problems. Stay present and positive. You’ve got this.