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After three flat years, carbon dioxide emissions rose again in 2017, showing that the earth’s struggles with climate change will only continue. While this news discouraged those who believed we might have finally hit peak levels, there’s plenty to be hopeful about. Now is the time for individuals to do what they can to reduce their impact, through actions big and small. In the week leading up to Earth Day, Earth911 tackles five different areas in which you can make a difference. To wrap it up, we’re examining how your buying habits matter.

Why Conscious Consumerism Matters

Conscious consumerism is a broad term that could refer to any regular practice that consumers take to educate themselves about the products they purchase so that they can select brands, stores and products that are known to be sustainable or otherwise environmentally friendly.

The goals of this movement are twofold:

  1. Reduce the individual’s environmental impact. Each decision founded on conscious consumerism should lead the consumer to more sustainably sourced products that produce less pollution, generate less waste and can be created with fewer negative environmental consequences. These small steps, if taken by the majority of consumers, could lead to a massive reduction in human impact on the environment.
  2. Use your purchasing power to create change. Though somewhat controversial, conscious consumerism is also a way for consumers to “vote” for earth-friendly products and practices through the purchasing decisions they make. The idea is that if consumers routinely reward companies that protect the environment, those companies will be motivated to continue those practices, and environmentally damaging companies will be economically motivated to change their practices.

What You Can Do

If you’re interested in becoming a conscious consumer, there are several actionable steps you can take:

  • Research before you make a purchase. Take the time to learn about the product you’re buying, including how it was produced, where it came from and what impact it will have on the environment when you’re done with it. Arm yourself with information by learning more about the manufacturers, distributors and stores involved in each transaction.
  • Eat and shop locally when you can. Shopping locally is good for your local economy as well as your environment. Locally sourced goods require less fuel to transport, and local produce is likely to be fresher and better tasting.
  • Opt for less packaging. When in doubt, always go with the option that has less packaging. The less waste you produce, the better.
  • Avoid disposable goods. Disposable goods, whether the wrapper on your hamburger or paper cups for a party, are harmful to the environment. Choose reusable items whenever possible.
  • Choose natural over synthetic. When possible, choose natural materials over their synthetic counterparts. For example, you might choose an organic cotton shirt over polyester.
  • Spread the word. Increase awareness within your community by initiating conversations about conscious consumerism. The more people actively practicing these habits, the more impact we’ll make collectively.

The Future of Conscious Consumerism

The concept of conscious consumerism isn’t likely to change drastically in the near future, though the ways we practice conscious consumerism may evolve. An increase in corporate transparency — whether the result of collective consumer pressure or new government regulations — would greatly facilitate the ability of consumers to make informed decisions about their purchases. If companies gave us more information up front about the environmental impact of the products we buy, it would be much easier to become a conscious consumer (and might encourage more people to become conscious consumers).

By Anna Johansson

Anna is a freelance writer, researcher and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, HuffingtonPost.com and more, Anna loves enjoying the great outdoors with her family. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.