If you were to walk down any given street in any given urban or suburban area, the chances are you could throw a rock and hit a Starbucks, H&M, and Bath & Body Works all in one shot. Thank god, right? After all, what would I do without my overpriced almond milk latte, the dress I’ll definitely only wear once, and that glittery bath gel I stock up on any chance I get?
All sarcasm aside, this is the reality of the 21st-century consumer experience—one I’m on the journey to distance myself from. I mean, we’ve all seen pictures of the Great Pacific garbage patch and I’m willing to bet you were one of the 33,485,492 people who watched that turtle get a straw pulled out of its nose. But beyond the environmental damage, there are other less visible costs at hand. For example, wealth in the US may be rising, but so are rates of depression and anxiety. And while I’m no psychologist, I’d be willing to bet that many people’s need to keep up with the Jones, so to speak, by having the latest iPhone, best job, and so on is at least a little bit to blame for our growing dissatisfaction.
So how do we counter this consumer rat race? My answer came in the form of conscious consumerism. The act of caring about where, how, and by who your products were made, staying away from brands who don’t share your values, and considering every purchase as an opportunity to financially support the companies who have dedicated themselves to social and environmental sustainability.
For me, sustainability was, and is, being a member of my family. There’s a picture hanging in our garage of my mom and dad, young and smiling in matching t-shirts at SolarFest—a true Vermont namesake—that stands as a constant reminder of where I come from. My dad, in particular, has made sustainability a non-negotiable part of our household, equipping our home with all kinds of energy-saving gadgets, solar panels, a garden, and even a make-shift shower timer when I was eight (I wish I were kidding, too). But because it was more or less forced on me, my reaction growing up wasn’t to dream of the day I’d own my own Prius or embrace a zero-waste lifestyle. No, instead I kind of went the other direction. To me, sustainability wasn’t even an afterthought. I didn’t think about the impact of the waste I created, where it all went, or what the long-term effects of my usage would be. To me, a disposal coffee cup was convenient, plastic cutlery was a no-brainer, and if you think I gave a second thought to buying anything from H&M or Forever 21, my friend, you are sorely mistaken.
What changed? Well, me. As I got older, I exposed myself to movies, like Food Inc., and spent more time considering the expansive and murky gap between me and the products I consumed. But none of this happened overnight. On the contrary, it’s taken me a very long time to get where I am and there’s still so much work to be done. Only recently did I make the choice to stay away from retailers like Zara and start bringing my own mesh produce bags to avoid using the plastic ones at grocery stores. But as I started taking these small steps, I came upon big realizations. Like, why do people put bananas in plastic bags? They literally have their own natural covering. And why are straws a given at most bars and restaurants when, for most people, they are by every stretch of the imagination completely unnecessary? And then came the very sobering reality: With the growth and development of the commercial market, the value of convenience has only continued to skyrocket. In fact, it’s so ingrained in us to reach for a plastic fork or jump at anything cheap or free that we don’t even stop to think, “Hey, wait a minute.” This isn’t by accident. The plastic market is predicted to be worth $654.38 billion dollars by 2020. And just like beauty, fashion, and other industries that have to work to create consumer demand and stay relevant, the easier and more prevalent these products become in our lives, the harder it becomes to remove the plastic spoon from our mouths.
But I want to be clear—I say none of this to shame anyone. I myself used three single-use plastic cups a few nights ago while I was out at a bar. And god knows I’m still trying to tame the rabid consumer beast that surfaces whenever I step foot into a TJMaxx. No, instead, I want this blog to be a place where people come to take first-steps and make small, but important, realizations. I want to put helpful information in people’s hands and make the process of living a more sustainable lifestyle financially, practically, and aesthetically feasible. I hope that by eliminating some of the stigmas and barriers associated with sustainability, I can make the movement as a whole more accessible for more people. I want to make room for mistakes and varying definitions of what it means to be “green”. And most of all, I want to show readers how truly gratifying, and even fun, a sustainable lifestyle can be. God knows, there are so many incredible artists, companies, eateries, and people working to make sustainability just as common as convenience. And the work they do isn’t just good for the planet, its refreshing to see. It’s a new spin on a modern story whose ending we each play a critical role in. The question is, are you willing to take that first step?