Sustainability is usually talked about in terms of taking something away, but sometimes adding something is important, too. There is a fine balance between abstinence and indulgence. Going green doesn't mean nothing can be purchased, but it also doesn't mean buying anything that claims to be green. Either extreme is unwise; therefore, it is important to become a conscious consumer in order to find the appropriate balance. The context, material, longevity and intended use are some important considerations in choosing whether a product is for you.
As the fair trade movement grows, more consumers are becoming educated on where clothing, food and other items come from. An object goes beyond its physical appearance. Beneath the surface, it holds a history of the people and places it has encountered. That object may have touched wars, human trafficking, labor unions, natural disasters or so many other conditions occurring in the countries where it originated.
As a consumer, it can be difficult to uncover many details about the journey an object has gone through before arriving to the store; however, a good place to start is store management when the product itself does not make information clear. When owners are ignorant regarding their product, it's a red flag, whereas a local store may be able to provide more information. Finding out this process when possible allows the consumer to determine if the materials were derived in a sustainable and just environment.
After determining where the materials came from and the social context they were derived in, one can consider the actual material the item is made from. To what extent is the material synthetic or natural? If it's made from natural materials, were they grown organically? It's important to think critically in determining just how sustainable a material is. It's not just about the material; it's also about water usage, surrounding ecosystems and the process used to make the resource into the item you now see.
One of the biggest considerations I have in buying products is reusability. It is important that a product is not only reusable, but that the consumer will reuse it. Another aspect that goes into this is the item's longevity. It may be reusable but only last for three uses; therefore, the two have to be considered in combination. In addition, I like to determine if this product will be replacing a frequent disposable item and if I use that disposable item.
Sometimes a product fits the bill in terms of reusability, but if it's not a necessary product for the consumer, it's just as mindless of a purchase as an unsustainable item. It's not enough for the product to be green: It has to be relatively practical. The practicality for each consumer will vary. To begin understanding what will be a fitting purchase, we must first understand our buying habits and what we're using in the first place.