Power to the purchaser

Having finally gotten back from running way too many errands, at the tail end of a season of rampant consumerism, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about the way we buy things. If you’re reading this, chances are you live in a mostly capitalism-driven economy. That reality, of course, come with pros and cons. One of the cons is that companies and corporations sometimes prioritize profit over integrity and ethical practices. One of the pros is that you, as a consumer, get to choose what companies you give money to.

This means that any practice or belief you hold to strongly can, in theory, be supported further through what you do or don’t buy (and who you do or don’t buy from). This might mean buying organic produce and free-range chicken products, not buying products that were tested on animals, or ensuring that something you buy is local or fair trade.

Sometimes, of course, convenience or cost may make sticking to any buying preferences difficult if not impossible. For many emerging adults who are on stricter budgets than more established adults, sometimes purchasing power is a lot more limited than we’d like.

Here are some quick numbers:

  • Despite Millennials earning only 62.6% of the pre-tax income that Gen-Xers do, housing for Millennials costs an average of 75% of housing costs for Gen-Xers.1
  • Millennials spend two-thirds the amount spent by Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers on entertainment.1
  • 60% of Millennials prefer to purchase generic brands over name brands.2
  • Nearly 50% of Millennials would be more willing to make a purchase from a company if that specific purchase supports a cause.2
  • 81% of Millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to charitable causes and corporate citizenship.3

In other words, a lot of us care how we’re spending our money — even though we have less buying power than older generations do now, and in many cases less than they did at our age. (Caused by things like the fact that in the U.S., college tuition and fees have increased approximately 225% over the last 30 years4, while the average wage index has only increased 26.6%.5)

I care about putting my money where my mouth is as much as is reasonably possible. I’ll buy less from — or cut out completely — brands whose ethics, environmental, and/or labor practices I don’t agree with. But sometimes it’s hard. I love to shop local and support small businesses, but having to buy a bunch of last-minute Christmas gifts meant that Amazon was infinitely more practical.

So how do we balance the two? I don’t have the perfect answer, but these are a few practices I’m going to be trying to implement more in 2019:

  • Read the labels. This is literally the easiest one. Look for labels (in-stores or online) that proclaim practices you want to support. And know when it’s just a marketing ploy: organic and fair trade can be certified, but words like “natural” don’t require any proof of standards
  • Source it. Find out where your stuff is coming from. Usually, the closer to home the more sustainably and/or ethically it’s been made. Not always, of course, but buying local also means a smaller carbon footprint!
  • Look into the company. I’m of the mindset that the bigger the company is, the more cautious I need to be about blindly purchasing from them, as large corporations too often hurt the little guy to stuff the pockets of higher-ups. I buy from a lot of chains and big retailers anyways, but I do try to buy less and at least be aware of their practices as a consumer.
  • Know the real cost difference. Keep in mind that sometimes cheap, mass-produced stuff won’t last as long or will be worse for you in the long run than spending a little more for practices and quality you can get behind.
  • Find other ways to support. If you find a brand whose practices you really like and want to support, say so. That can mean telling friends, following them on social media, buying more of their product, whatever.
  • Be honest about what you can afford. I’ll be honest: I don’t buy all fair-trade, sustainable, organic stuff. I can’t afford it all the time, and I know a lot of other folks can’t either. At that point, you have to determine which purchases are worth it to you, and which ones are areas where you’re okay sticking to the status quo.

This is something I definitely don’t do as well as I’d like, but I hope it’s one that we as a society can continuously improve at. As much as I appreciate low costs and convenience, I want to take care of all the people, creatures, and resources that inhabit our world — and that often means saying so with my wallet.

What do you do for more ethical purchasing? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up. Thanks for reading, and good luck adulting!

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018.

2 Millennial Marketing, 2018.

3 Horizon Media Finger on the Pulse Study, via Forbes, 2014.

4 CollegeBoard, 2018.

5 Social Security Administration, 2017.

Green like new

Green, beyond being simply a color, can be an adjective used to describe someone who’s new or getting the hang of things. For us emerging adults, we’re green to this part of life. There’s a lot of stuff we’re still learning. But there’s one thing I really hope Millennials have made more progress on than previous generations had at our age: taking care of the environment.

Humans have always been really good at destroying stuff. But it seems like we used to be a lot better at harmony, at not taking too much, at not exhausting resources. The advent of the modern world — particularly industrialization in its many facets — has skyrocketed our civilization forward, while robbing and decimating our environment.

We’ve only got one planet guys, and we’ve made remarkable progress toward screwing it up irreparably. Whether or not you think the shifts we’re seeing in our climate are part of a large natural cycle the Earth goes through, or something humans are wholly responsible for, we haven’t been making it better. And if we continue to accelerate the changes, we’re going to make it a heck of a lot harder to live on this planet.

I hate getting apocalyptic, but the facts cannot be turned away from. Reefs and rainforests are dying, disappearing, or are already destroyed. Biodiversity is dropping all over the world, at a rate that begins to threaten the balance of ecosystems. The amount of waste we create, and are constantly creating, is overwhelming. As the dominant species on the planet, it ought to be our responsibility to care for it, and to ensure its continued health as much as possible, for the sake of all its inhabitants.

It is incredibly difficult to be environmentally friendly in all of one’s actions. From an information perspective, it’s hard to know the full impact of every choice we make. From a lifestyle perspective, there are some things I at least find it difficult to change or do without. But a little progress — a little awareness and change — is at least a step in the right direction. So I hope you’ll join me in taking some of these steps to help care for our planet.

How we eat

  • Drink from a reusable water bottle — and skip the straw. Plastic bottles and straws are one of the easiest ways to cut needless waste, and especially to keep it out of oceans and other places it might harm the wildlife. Same goes for avoiding plastic dishes and silverware.
  • Environmentally friendly means responsible farming, too. Eating organic, local, and/or from sources that use eco- and animal-friendly methods is getting easier. You can check out farmer’s markets, health food stores if your wallet allows, and the labels on items you buy.
  • Compost. You can buy a compost bin and either keep it under your kitchen sink or outside if the smell bothers you, and let any food waste (eggshells, potato peels, small scraps, etc.) get funky until it’s a sweet fertilizer for your — or your neighbor’s — garden.
  • On that note, minimize food waste. Especially in the U.S., we waste so much food. It’s horrible. Don’t buy extra if you know you won’t eat it, don’t throw it out if it isn’t actually bad (i.e. browning on cut fruit), and check to see if your community or city has any sort of a food waste program where people can donate excess food.

How we shop

  • Grab some reusable bags. Where I live shoppers actually have to pay for non-reusable bags, but even if plastic or paper is free, bringing bags from home will save waste.
  • Green is the new black. The fashion industry is reported to be the second largest polluter in the world, after oil. This Nylon article offers more info, and simple ways to support sustainable fashion.
  • Skip extra packaging whenever possible. When packaging is needed, try to use renewable/eco-friendly means like recycled cardboard.
  • Check labels/brands to see if they source their materials responsibly. Of course, the benchmark for this is companies like Patagonia, who has a whole sections on its website detailing its commitment to lessening environmental impact. But recently other brands like Allbirds have been making protecting the environment a pillar of their business.
  • Buy used. Almost everything (almost!) is less expensive and more eco-friendly to buy used. Used clothes, furniture, and cars (especially ones that aren’t particularly old) are a great place to start. Refurbished tech can also help cut down on manufacturing demand and the impact of those plants.
  • Build sustainable. Wood stuff is awesome, and in principle all renewable — but some wood is way less sustainable than other types. Trees and plants that grow slower are more difficult to keep sustainable, so materials like bamboo and pine are grow a lot faster than oak and mahogany, but there are sustainable sources of most woods.

How we live

  • Recycle. Most forms of plastic packaging, paper and cardboard, glass bottles, and metal cans can all be recycled. (Note that Styrofoam can’t be recycled, which is another reason to avoid it when possible.)
  • Don’t litter. I can’t believe I have to say that one but I still see so much trash and waste on the side of the road, in landscaping, any busy area, and even beaches.
  • Buy a plant. Or at least water the ones you have. I’m terrible at keeping plants alive, but they’re really important to the environment and balancing out carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.
  • Turn the lights off. Seriously, the lights only need to be on for the rooms people are actually in. In the same vein, using the A/C and heat as little as possible, as well as swapping your lightbulbs for LED or compact fluorescent, will not only save your energy bill, but prove a little less taxing on the planet.
  • Ride green. This isn’t possible for everyone, but if you can walk or bike to work, do it. If you can take public transportation, more power to you. If you need to drive, try to carpool. Support vehicle manufacturing that not only reduces the need for natural gas and cuts down on pollution, but is conscientious manufacturing.
  • Support renewable energy sources. Solar, hydroelectric, wind. It’s not all gas and coal folks. The more we support and explore responsible and sustainable energy sources, the more we’re able to be responsible about how we consume resources that aren’t available so easily. You can do this by checking out the energy sources of businesses you support, or even installing solar panels on your own home (if you own it, which is a big if). A lot of power companies will give discounts to people who commit to more eco-friendly energy.
  • Support other people who care. There are so many wildlife reserves, state and national parks, and environmental impact organizations. Usually the people who spend the most time in nature are most committed to preserving it. Support them, be them.

All of those things feel like a lot to ask. I’ll be super honest and admit that not all of them are possible for me right now. But I stick to the ones that are possible, and we can all look for ways to reduce waste and be nice to the planet. We only have one, and we aren’t alone on it. There are billions more people and trillions more animals and plants — currently estimated at a total of about 8.7 million species. They’re counting on us. We’re counting on us. But together I think we can save the world.

What are some of the best ways you’ve found to go green in everyday life? I’d love to hear, so let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy Earth Day!