Everyday we create the world we live in through our consumption. We may not realize it, but our daily purchasing decisions are some of the most important choices we make and have far reaching global impact. Commerce is the lifeblood of humanity. Since the dawn of civilization people have bartered with and bought goods from one another. Cultivating consciousness around consumption means developing awareness around our true impact on other people and this planet. By making an effort to be more conscious about how products are produced, sold and consumed, we can have far more enjoyable experiences and make the world a better place.
The things we consume have a life cycle that spans the global supply chain – from cotton plantations in the United States to electronics factories in China to banana farms in South America. Our consumption habits have significant downstream impact. It can be hard to see when we’re buying a t-shirt or a piece of jewelry, but the things we purchase either support a positive relationship with people and our planet or a negative one.
Consider the life cycle of food as it makes its way to the table. How was the food cultivated? Was it raised in a sustainable manner by farmers that really cared about you and the planet? How was it picked, processed and distributed? How were workers treated in the process? Finally, how was it prepared just before it came to your plate?
It’s a little easier to track the path of food from farm to table because food is so heavily regulated. With a little bit of effort we can choose to buy organic. But it’s harder to see the bigger picture. The fact is, a similar line of questioning can be applied to every product we purchase, from furniture to footwear.
The amount of effort it would take to track the entire supply chain is mind boggling and well beyond what even the most well-meaning person would ever want to do. It’s hard enough figuring out the source of the food on our table, much less all the clothes and electronics we buy.
One place to start is simple: reduce consumption. Stepping back from everything we own, we might realize that we don’t actually own anything – everything owns us. Every item we purchase, from our car to our shoes, is something we have to take care of and maintain.
Often we lose sight of all the things we own, and consumption becomes an opiate – the fleeting satisfaction of getting that shinny new thing. Inevitably, most of the things we buy end up as clutter in the closet or another reason to spend a hundred dollars a month for storage space. A person can’t avoid owning stuff – even a monk owns a mat. But we can become much more aware of what we bring into our lives.
Our culture prizes getting the best deal on everything we buy. Supply always meets demand and our appetite for consumption is met with a flood of low cost, low quality products. Getting that shinny new thing has become a staple of the modern economy – one that churns up global resources much faster than we can replace them. There’s a lot to be said for spending more on a high quality product that will actually last. Well designed products are more enjoyable and more durable. In the long run, that means greater cost savings as the product won’t need to be replaced as soon. Spending more on a product also promotes good quality craftsmanship which supports merchants that actually care about the products that they sell.
When it comes to local merchants, one can actually talk to the owner and rely on their expertise. It starts with asking the right questions and making an effort. In a perfect world every human being would profoundly care about how their actions affect other human beings. We might not be there yet, but we can support the people who are making the effort, particularly independent merchants who love what they do.
As human beings, we each have the power to be the change we want to see in the world. Each of us can make the choice to care about what we consume. Conscious commerce really means finding love for ourselves. When we love ourselves, we care about the things we put into and onto our body. When we love the planet, we think about how the things we purchase affect the planet and the people on it.