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  • Christie Johnson

Make a Difference: Your Complete Guide to Conscious Shopping

Hands clutching a note book laid on a table. The notebook is open and reads: 'reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat'
Reduce your environmental impact by conscious shopping!

Our planet is suffering.

Environmental degradation. Extreme weather events. Displacement of communities. Water scarcity. It feels like the world is at breaking point.

Looking at the climate crisis in its entirety can feel overwhelming. Demoralising even.

When the problem is so big, is it possible to effect change?

The truth is: we can all make a difference. And it could start with something as simple as conscious shopping.

In this guide, you'll discover the definition of conscious shopping and 15 simple and budget-friendly tips to help you lead a more sustainable life.

What is Conscious Shopping?

Conscious shopping – or conscious consumerism – is the act of buying products with deep consideration for people and the planet.

Rather than giving into hedonistic desires, conscious shopping is recognising the environmental and social impact of a purchase.

Shopping consciously is about mindful, rather than mindless, consumption. Essentially, it’s the direct antithesis of overconsumption.

According to professional services firm Deloitte, these are the 4 main questions today’s eco-consumers are asking when conscious shopping:

  • Is the product sustainable and does it come in sustainable packaging?

  • Does the brand or company reduce waste during manufacturing?

  • Is the brand or company committed to ethical working conditions?

  • How does the brand or company reduce its carbon footprint?

Socially Conscious Consumer Trends

The stats are in. Conscious consumerism is on the rise! Take a look at these hopeful conscious shopping trends and insights:

  • 70% of consumers are willing to pay more for organic, fair trade, sustainable, and locally sourced foods. According to Deloitte’s The Conscious Consumer Report.

  • 90% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for eco-friendly products. According to a survey by Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield.

  • 81% of people expect advertising and communications to include environmentally conscious messaging. According to a survey by YouGov and creative research platform Visual GPS.

  • 50% of all consumers globally say they have adopted more environmentally-friendly habits. According to PwC’s June 2021 Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey.

  • 84% of consumers will avoid brands that display poor environmental standards. According to The Roundup’s report.

Conscious living tips displayed in an infographic
Conscious shopping tips

How to Become a Conscious Shopper: 15 Simple and Budget-Friendly Tips

1. Buy Less

A big part of conscious shopping is buying less.

Today’s consumer culture has reached dizzying heights. Overconsumption is the status quo. Companies are constantly churning out endless new products. Marketing campaigns urge us to buy into the latest trend lest we want to become socially irrelevant.

But to what end? We are consuming more than the planet can withstand. Consumerism devours natural resources, generates a huge carbon footprint, and creates excessive waste. If the population reaches 9.6 billion by 2025, we will need 3 planets to sustain our consumer lifestyle. Something needs to change.

And let’s be real. You don’t need many possessions to live a happy and meaningful life. It’s time to say “no” to the world’s obsessive consumer culture and start cultivating a minimalist mindset.

Pro tip: The next time you come across an item you want to buy, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Better still, give yourself a few days to make a decision. That way you know if your need is genuine or if it’s simply an impulse buy.

2. Shop Second Hand

Did you know you could save around $150 a month if you shop second hand?

It’s true. Browsing thrift stores equals huge savings. Approximately 50% of conscious shoppers agree affordability is the main reason for choosing second hand.

But there are also huge environmental benefits for opting for preloved instead of new. Buying second hand fashion, for example, can reduce the environmental impact of an item by an astonishing 90%!

With the market value of thrift stores predicted to jump to $31 billion by 2026, it’s clear the second hand revolution is here to stay.

3. Embrace Circularity

You’ve perhaps heard companies and brands mention “circularity” when discussing products or manufacturing processes. But what does it mean, exactly? And how can you embrace circularity when conscious shopping?

A circular economy is about keeping resources in circulation for as long as possible. As a capitalist society, we largely operate in a linear system that extracts, consumes, and disposes of products. A circular supply chain eliminates waste and uses materials that can either biodegrade or be reused.

As a conscious shopper, make sure to choose the right materials and keep your possessions in circulation for as long as possible. According to Deloitte, 1 in 2 conscious consumers repaired an item instead of replacing it in 2022.

Repair, recycle, repurpose, or compost (if possible!)

4. Invest in Conscious Brands

If second hand isn’t an option, why not consider buying from conscious brands?

Conscious brands use sustainable materials, operate an eco-friendly supply chain, and ensure workers are treated fairly.

Admittedly, conscious brands are on the pricier side. Many conscious brands are painstaking when it comes to sustainable and ethical practices which is why they operate within a higher price point.

Overconsumption and the rise of global markets like the fashion industry mean people and the planet often pay a huge price for cheap production.

Why not browse sustainable living blogs or directories such as Good On You? That way you can be sure to find the best and most affordable brands for you.

5. Look Out For Sustainability Certifications

In a world consumed by greenwashing claims, sustainability certifications are a beacon of hope for conscious shoppers!

A sustainability certification is a voluntary certification issued by a reliable, third-party organisation. Certifications assess if a product or company is following through on environmental, ethical, and social claims. It’s a great way to identify the brands worth investing in.

Here are some examples of sustainability certifications to look out for when conscious shopping:

6. Sustainable Fabrics

When conscious shopping, one of the best things you can do is buy products made from sustainable fabrics. Be sure to look out for recycled materials and plant-based fibres.

Here’s a list of some sustainable fabrics to keep in mind when shopping consciously:

  • Piñatex - made from discarded pineapple leaves

  • Bamboo - a fast-growing crop and a renewable resource

  • Organic Cotton - no harsh chemicals, uses less water, and promotes healthy soils

  • TENCEL™ fibres - made from sustainably sourced wood

  • Organic Linen (flaw plant) - an age-old fabric that is highly biodegradable, versatile, and requires less water to grow

  • Organic Hemp - is fast-growing, has no harsh chemicals, and requires less water

Pro tip: Avoid synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, and acrylic. Synthetic materials depend on fossil fuel production and shed microplastics which is detrimental to our health and wildlife.

7. Fair Labour

Human rights abuses and poor working conditions are rife across the global supply chain. When buying new, it’s important to find out a company's working policy. Some questions you might ask yourself when researching:

  • Does the company mention anything about ethical working conditions on its website? Is manufacturing outsourced?

  • Are factories based in countries with a high risk of exploitation?

  • Does the company hold any sustainability certifications that guarantee fair and safe working conditions?

  • Can you see a Code of Conduct?

If the brand has published a quarterly report, scan to see if working conditions are mentioned. I always like to do a quick Google search to see if news outlets or third party organisations have published anything about a company. If there’s dirt, you can usually find it!

8. Consider End of Life

When we buy a product, we seldom think about what will happen when we have no use for it anymore.

To shop consciously means to consider the materials a product is made from and what will happen to it when it reaches its end of life. Can the materials biodegrade? Could the item be repurposed into something new? Can it be recycled?

Most conventional products are made from plastic-based materials that are destined to end up as the world’s eternal garbage. It’s time to say no to single-use plastics and hello to circular and sustainable products!

9. Ask Questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. By that I mean: if a company doesn’t display information about its environmental and ethical practices, send them an email. Demand transparency. The more companies are held accountable, the more likely they will take steps to implement positive change.

As a conscious shopper, you have more power than you think.

10. Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Reducing your carbon footprint is part of the conscious shopping experience. Instead of buying online, try shopping locally. Does the company you’re buying from allow you to offset your carbon footprint when placing an order?

If not, there are plenty of ways you can do that yourself. Investing in tree-planting schemes is a great example!

11. Eco-Friendly Supply Chains

When conscious shopping, I recommend checking out how a company reduces environmental impact across production.

Here are a few questions I ask myself when looking into a company’s green credentials:

  • Does the company invest in renewable energy or carbon offset initiatives?

  • What materials does the company use? Are they biodegradable or recyclable?

  • Does the company eradicate the use of harsh chemicals during production?

  • How does the company manage water consumption and waste?

  • How does the company handle a product’s end of life? Does it facilitate a give-back scheme?

  • Does the company hold environmental certifications to verify its environmental efforts?

12. Say “No” to Fast Fashion

Fast fashion is addictive. Cheap deals and rampant seasonal trends make buying new clothes almost impossible to resist. But the social and environmental impact of this insidious industry is staggering.

Conscious shopping is about creating a sustainable wardrobe and practicing slow fashion principles. Shop your own closet, buy second hand, and invest in sustainable fashion brands that don’t buy into seasons or sales.

13. Explore Slow Living

Getting into a slow living mindset is a great way to cultivate conscious shopping habits. From reconnecting with nature to practicing gratitude, slow living encourages you to consider what you want out of life. Often when we take a step back we realise possessions are not important.

Check out this guide to slow living for step-by-step tips.

14. Buy Seasonally

Conscious shopping applies to food too. There are many benefits to buying seasonal produce. Food that is naturally in season always tastes fresher and sweeter. Plus, buying locally produced food that is in season is generally cheaper and better for the environment.

15. Avoid Unnecessary Packaging

Unfortunately, most packaging these days is riddled with non-recyclable plastic!

According to the United Nations, only 10% of the 7 billion tonnes of plastic produced worldwide has been recycled. Most plastic is thrown into landfill, incinerated or escapes into the natural environment. Plastic can’t naturally biodegrade. Instead it breaks up into tiny microplastics, eternally contaminating the world’s vital ecosystems.

Try to avoid packaging as much as possible when conscious shopping. Take reusable bags and opts for brands that use recyclable or biodegradable packaging.

A woman at a refill store wearing a pink and white jumper and jeans. The woman is dispensing grains into a paper bag.
Going to refill stores is one way to start conscious shopping.

Your Conscious Shopping FAQ

What is a Conscious Brand?

Conscious brands – also known as ethical brands and sustainable brands – are companies that value people and the planet rather than just focusing on profit. Conscious brands treat workers fairly and reduce environmental impact across every aspect of the supply chain.

Read this guide about conscious shopping to learn how to identify conscious brands.

What Does Being a Conscious Consumer Mean?

Being a conscious consumer means shopping mindfully and being conscious about how your purchases impact people and the environment. Conscious consumerism is on the rise with 78% of consumers feeling sustainability is important and 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for eco-friendly brands.

Check out this guide on conscious shopping to learn some easy tips on how to become a conscious consumer.

What is the Problem with Conscious Consumerism?

The main problem with conscious consumerism is affordability. Brands that follow sustainable and ethical practices tend to be more expensive. According to Deloitte, the “primary barrier” to encouraging conscious shopping is cost, with “nearly one in two respondents (57%) citing it as the main area to address.”

Unfortunately, we’ve lost sight of the true cost of an item that doesn't harm workers' rights and the natural world. Most people have grown accustomed to buying products at a cheaper price point because global brands value profit over people and the environment.

Can Conscious Consumerism Save the World?

As the climate crisis increases in severity, conscious consumerism is a powerful way we can reduce humanity’s environmental and social impact. Overconsumption causes human waste and pollution which drives climate change. Global supply chains and unsustainable consumption generate a colossal carbon footprint, deplete natural resources and contribute to biodiversity loss.

Buying less, choosing well, and making it last is the greatest gift you can give to the Earth!

Conscious Shopping: The Bottom Line

So there you have it! Your guide to conscious shopping and how to consume more mindfully.

We live in a world dominated by rampant consumerism. Our industrialised society values profit over everything else. Conscious shopping is a way to challenge the devastating status quo and start demanding better for ourselves and the planet.

Making a difference can start with you.

Will you give conscious shopping a try? Let me know in the comments section below!

Share this article with friends who are looking to shop with a conscience.

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This is an 'about me' section about the author, sustainability writer and digital marketer Christie Johnson. The section includes an image of the author, a description of her services and a link to her 'about me' page.


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