Do you think of yourself as a consumer like you think of yourself as a gender, a child, a parent, a professional? Each of these roles defines and shapes our self-image then why not the role of consumer?
We have all been consuming natural resources from the day of our birth (our first gulp of air is a natural resource). Does reflecting on this thought reframe our narrative as consumers?
Do we even have a consumer narrative or are we buying and consuming merely what is easily accessible or what is socially and culturally appreciated?
As an observer, writer, and initiator of a project that is trying to reduce consumer carbon footprint by integrating consumption choices with the production cycle, I question the consumer’s role in production?
It may be sufficient for some of us to have an inactive, lopsided relationship with what we consume, but for those of us who see the far-reaching impact of individual choice this inactive arrangement is not enough: In a species and in nature, individual choices influence collective realities. Your reality, not just physical but also mental and emotional will be influenced unequivocally by my choices though we may never meet or cross paths. Nature is intricately connected, and we may be close to forgetting but we are still part of nature.
It will be unfair if I expect you to take all this in and become an engaged consumer. Yet in the face of climate emergency we need to rise. Do we have the capacity? If not, how do we build that collective capacity? Can we ask this question, while empathising with our varied and changing social, cultural, emotional, and economic realities?
We have now climate emergency on one end and our varied spectrum of changing realities at the other, both can’t be ignored. However, one is irreversible after a point and the other is transient yet influential. To move ahead, we need to link the two. With what? Life.
Life is nature: they are not distinct. To be an engaged consumer that’s where we need to begin: by asking if the process that went into making, packaging, and transporting a product is respectful of life. Asking is our bridge. It will take us consumers into the production cycle.
Here is a list of eleven questions that we can convert into steps towards making conscious purchase choices.
- Made by hand? – Yes
- Made using clean energy, such as solar, wind? – Yes
- Made by reusing and recycling water? – Yes
- Made without harming the soil’s natural composition, i.e. without increasing soil toxicity (the pH balance that we all love in our skin care products) – If possible then yes for certain
- Made locally or in a region where it can be transported over land? – Yes
- Packaged with a complete ingredient list – Worth reading and looking at
- Packaged in single-use plastic? – Do not buy
- Packaged in reusable materials? – Buy only if needed; you don’t want your house to become a store-house
- Packaged in recyclable materials? – Okay only for staples, such as spices and grains, and indispensables like toothpaste!
- Transported over land? – Works
- Transported by Air? – Do not buy except when your laptop or phone breaks down
When you buy from small, independent, and local producers, designers, and makers, you can ask if they will ship your purchase with minimal packaging if practical or take back their packaging to sterilise and reuse. You will be surprised at how willing they may be to accommodate your request.
I have made such requests with many producers and suppliers in India, including Black Baza for coffee beans—they now ship to me without plastic packaging in unbleached, brown paper bags using ground transport only. Saucery during the subsequent delivery take back their containers used for preservative-free pasta sauces. Gouri’s Goodies joyfully agreed to keep aside for me orange and dark chocolate squares without the individual plastic wrapping. I simply picked these up whenever I was close to their workshop and kitchen.
The consumer’s imprint on production may reduce production’s imprint on the planet. With this in mind, is it possible to ignore our role as consumers?