Many students wonder what they can do to help save the environment, without first ruining it themselves. They may not have the power to influence politics or can afford to drive a hybrid, but there is a way to affect positive change by paying more attention to the way we do everyday routines.
While sometimes students might feel helpless or too busy to help the planet, most forget to utilize our greatest power, the power of the consumer.
The power of the consumer gives us the power to vote with our dollar every time we spend money. Stimulating the emerging green economy is especially important now, as many companies will be seeing how consumers respond to their new green products. If a lot of people are buying them, then they are more likely to continue making eco-friendly products and will in turn become more sustainable in their practices. Michael Pollan encourages to “vote with your fork,” and be conscious of the choices you make in purchasing food, which can be done three or four times a day.
If consumers were more likely to buy products with the fair trade or USDA organic label, then more companies will want to become fair trade or organic certified. If consumers stop buying bottled water because they realize it is wasteful and bad for the environment, then those companies will go out of business. Companies simply cannot survive if people are not buying their product and vice versa.
Because there’s money behind this power, it is arguably more powerful than the right to vote.
Therefore the more students use this power, the more we can affect change. Businesses move faster than government and respond quicker to the wants of the people. If we put in as much time researching the companies that we support as the politicians we vote for, the world would be a much different place.
Politics and businesses theoretically ultimately answer to the needs and wants of the people. It is up to us to tell them what we want and to support those that we agree with using the power of our dollar.
I would like to recognize that yes, we are college students, and buying from businesses that use more sustainable practices are usually more expensive. But it is important to at least be conscious of the decisions you make and companies you buy from. Many cheap products are made though externalizing costs by exploiting labor or are subsidized within our current system. But when companies and governments start to see that this is no longer being tolerated and that there is more money in sustainable practices, they will start to make a change
It’s also important to ask questions and give feedback so that the needs of the consumer can properly met. Ask your local grocery store why they don’t carry organic food or encourage them to provide more fresh food from local farmers. Otherwise, they will continue to carry the same products, and will not realize that there is a market for other sustainable products.
Here are some things you can do to be a smarter more responsible consumer:
1. Buy local to support the local economy and reduce transportation impacts.
2. Buy goods with less/recycled packaging.
3. Buy in bulk to save money and embodied energy.
4. Buy used clothing, books and other products, or find someway to get them for free.
5. Buy fair-trade products, which pay workers a fair wage and support local economies.
6. Buy non-toxic cleaning materials and organic linens.
7. Buy from businesses that make a commitment to being green.
8. Buy eco-friendly products.
Many times these options are already available to us. Try checking out places like Natural Foods on Broad St. that offers healthy, local food and Evos, a healthy and sustainable fast food chain. Sustainability is not specific to any one industry; it applies to all.
Remember that you as the consumer have the power to make a change everyday, requires little extra effort, and maybe a little more money. It’s time to act responsibly and influence positive change with the power of our dollar.
Sean Basalyga is a earth sciences senior and Mustang Daily columnist.
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