Posted on December 27, 2023
5 ways to be a more conscious consumer in 2024
There are times (like now) when hope gets hard. When it feels that our individual actions—ethical and consistent as they may be—are not enough to turn our world in the right direction. This is understandable. Certainly we’ve got a lot of challenges ahead of us. But, working together, we can address them and solve them. Numerous actions by individuals can collectively make a difference.
Consider for example, plant-based eating. It’s hugely beneficial for the environment. Recent research shows that a vegan diet cuts emissions, water pollution and land use by 75% compared to diets that include over 100 grams of meat per day. A plant-based diet reduces wildlife destruction by 66% and water use by 54%. Now consider that the number of vegans in the U.S. tripled from 2004 to 2019, and that 1.5 billion people worldwide avoid foods made with meat.
The takeaway is this: individual choices do matter. The decisions we make as consumers—whether it’s the foods we eat, the clothes we wear or the cars we drive—do make a difference.
Here are five ways you can be a more conscious consumer and change the world for the better with your purchasing power in 2024.
It’s not easy. The ecommerce giant dominates online shopping. A quarter of Americans now shop at Amazon at least once a week and half of Americans have an Amazon Prime account.
But options do exist and they’re worth looking for, especially when you learn about Amazon’s impact on the planet. It produced 71 million metric tons of CO2 emissions in 2021, up a whopping 40% from 2019. Also in 2021, Amazon generated enough plastic waste to cover the Earth in 800 layers, despite the fact that the company “would have no problem” switching to plastic-free packaging, according to former Amazon executive Rachel Johnson Greer. “It’s really a question of will.”
If you find information like that ethically suffocating, there are other ecommerce sites that offer a wide range of products and do it in an ecofriendly way. They usually pack with less plastic or with sustainable alternatives, offset their shipping emissions and focus on earth-conscious items and brands. Their prices might be a little higher but they don’t inflict a large hidden cost on our planet.
DoneGood has clothing, bags and totes, home accessories, kitchenware, jewelry, self-care and a lot more. Its team vets every brand to make sure it pays decent wages, empowers communities and has ecofriendly practices.
There is eBay, where you can shrink your shopping footprint by purchasing secondhand. Check out eBay Refurbished, which sells reconditioned products up to 50% off the list price, with warranties as good or better than the original warranties. Also Etsy, the global marketplace that supports independent creators of crafts, housewares, art, soap, T-shirts and much more. In 2020, it generated almost $4 billion in income for small businesses.
For books, there’s Bookshop.org, where you’ll find just about any book you can find at Amazon—and the community feeling that makes your local bookstore such a joy, albeit in virtual form. Bookshop.org supports independent booksellers around the world. It knows local bookstores are vital hubs that foster culture, curiosity and a love of reading, and it’s committed to helping them. Since 2020, Bookshop.org has raised more than $28 million for independent bookstores. Plus, we have a CREDO Mobile Bookshop on the site which showcases recommendations from our grantee partners, the 2023 Book Award winners, and more. When you make a purchase at the CREDO Mobile store, you’ll also help generate donations for the progressive nonprofits we fund. (We receive a commission on every book purchased at our affiliate shop.)
Do your research
You can’t know all that’s involved in the making of every item you buy. But you can Google the products you buy often to see if the companies that make them behave in a responsible way.
Chocolate, for example. You might enjoy a chocolate candy made by Mars, Hershey or Nestle. If you do a little searching, you’ll discover that chocolate companies like these have a dark secret: child slavery. Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa and many of the cocoa plantations there use child slaves. So companies that source cocoa from West Africa can be linked directly to child slavery. Instead, choose an ethical brand. There are a lot of them on the market now.
Check the label
Labels can help you make ethical choices, especially when you’re buying clothes and food. Avoid fast fashion brands like Zara, H&M and Forever 21. They have an enormous footprint. Fast fashion is the world’s second-most-polluting industry, after oil and gas. It produces around 10% of global carbon emissions, which is more than all international flights and maritime shipping combined.
As for food, many of the labels on it mean little. For example, there are no formal FDA regulations governing use of the word “natural.” The term “free range” is meaningless, as Vox reported recently. An undercover investigator at Tyson Foods, the largest chicken company in the U.S., called conditions at one Tyson farm “a living nightmare.”
But there are some food labels that can tell you a lot. Here are a few you see often at the market and what they mean.
Fairtrade Certified indicates the product is certified by the worldwide monitoring group Fairtrade International and means it was made according to strict standards that protect the lives and livelihoods of farmers, fishers and other producer communities, as well as the environment.
USDA Organic shows that an agricultural product was made in accordance with USDA organic standards that require production methods to “integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used.”
Non-GMO Project Verified means a food meets the standards of the Non-GMO Project, which is dedicated to helping consumers avoid GMOs. It doesn’t guarantee that a product is free of GMOs—it can’t, because the risk of GMO contamination is ever-present today—but it does ensure that a product is made according to best practices for GMO avoidance.
Use ethical-shopping apps
You can use your phone when you go shopping to make more conscious choices—and there are a number of apps that can help you. Here are a few:
Buycott is an app that scans barcodes and provides details on products and manufacturers so that you can make an informed decision.
Ethical Barcode scans the barcodes on supermarket items and gives you information on the companies that make them. It provides ratings so you can learn if the products you’re buying do damage to the environment or animals.
Good on You scores over 3,000 fashion brands according to their impact on people, animals and the planet. It researches companies extensively and gives you an easy-to-understand rating, from “Great” to “We avoid.”
Switch to CREDO Mobile
The phone company you choose matters too. Join CREDO Mobile and you can make real change in the world just by using our service. Because when you do, you’ll raise vital funding for nonprofit groups fighting for the causes you believe in, groups like Earthjustice, Planned Parenthood and Social Security Works.
To date, we’ve donated over $95 million to these and hundreds of other progressive groups. The donations cost our customers nothing extra—but they mean everything to the nonprofits that rely on us.
Switch to CREDO Mobile and you’ll get the good feeling that comes with knowing you support the causes important to you, simply by using your phone. You’ll also get all you want from a phone company: competitive rates, great deals on new devices and nationwide coverage on the top-rated, most reliable network.