„Every receipt is a ballot. Every fucking time. Love, capitalism.“Embed from Getty Images
Again, this is the perfect quote to enter part II of the article concerning the topic „voting“.As I already underlined in part I there are different kinds of votes which you do throughout your life.
You and I do the „economic vote“ every day, every time, when we buy something for money, we decide: For product or service A or B, for cheap or expensive, for UK or Bangladesh products…
How can we make an impact when we do not only vote according to our needs but also considering environmental aspects?
Table of contents:
1.What impact do sustainable consumption choices have? (partly outlined in part I too)
2. How do we decide?
a) concerning the type of decision
b) our unconscious criteria for (non)sustainable consumption choices
3. How do I do sustainable consumption choices in a simple and effective way?
a) What is important for me?
b) Where do I find the goods which suit my values?
c) Establishing routines
d) Buy less!
1.What impact do sustainable consumption choices have?
„Well, it won’t change anything if I do something. There are 8 billion of other people in this world!“ „It doesn’t really matter what I buy, I can’t influence supply anyway.“ „My actions are only a drop in the bucket.” I have already heard lots of these statements. Are they true?Embed from Getty Images
Firstly, one difficulty I want to stress are the different understandings of conscious consumption. A good example is the discussion about alternative energies. Some ecologically oriented people believe in nuclear power to stop climate change, whereas some say, wind power plants make our landscape ugly, and so on. It’s obvious that people have some differences in their opinions. However, if we have one common goal, to preserve our livelihoods on this planet it is important to agree on some common values. Because our opponents also know what they want.
Sustainably oriented people already have some common values, e.g. that we shall prevent food waste. But we need a broader agreement and I am convinced we can reach that if we continue talking with each other to find common values and to implement them in everyday life too.
Going back to the arguments mentioned in the beginning: Facts prove them wrong! An average American person causes 730 kg (1609,37) kg waste, 340,68 l (90 gallons) waste water  and 16,4 tons of carbon dioxide (year 2013)! Thus, the US produces even more waste than other industry nations and has a great potential to reduce it! This shows that everyone of us has a remarkable influence to avoid co2 emissions and the waste of resources.
When more people start to consume responsibly concerning social and ecological sustainability, this influences their communities. And this is our chance to reach a change of thinking and a change of actions. New ideas, concepts and enterprises can grow e.g. Zero Waste grocery stores which are launched around the globe. Many different ideas can help us to tackle problems from different angles to address new challenges in sustainable everyday life.
- The drop in the bucket has the potential to become a waterfall!
Your conscious decision concerning private consumption is even made possible through the economic model of most western countries, the market economy. Enterprises produce only when consumers buy their products & services. You can decide yourself what you want to buy. In planned economy, you would have to deal with the decisions of your state.
However, in market economy, it’s your responsibility not only as a consumer but also as an entrepreneur, a worker or a CEO to work towards a fully sustainable world. Concerning private consumption your economic decision is the counterpart to the political decision (which I mentioned in part I)!
Therefore, I call the system of economic decision possibilities “consumption Embed from Getty Images„
2.How do we decide?
Nobody does all his economic decisions cnsciously.
1.It depends on the mindset and values of the person who decides.
2.Economic decisions are taken in different ways depending on the part of life they concern.
Therefore, somebody who e.g. chooses his food very consciously maybe fully neglects the potential of sustainable finance. Or somebody even neglects sustainability in all aspects of consumption and only decides for the cheapest good.
Anyway, we do not always decide:Embed from Getty Images
Using a framework developed in marketing we can explain our consumer behaviour in different ways. Here I only mention 2 methods of categorising decisions. These methods shall give you a better understanding of our behaviour.
Firstly, there are low-involvement and high-involvement decisions.
When your buying decision is made with high involvement, you inform yourself before buying and ponder different options meticulously. Low-involvement is the opposite: Here you decide about something which is not important for you. Thus, you will make your decision much faster and with less reflection on the advantages, disadvantages and ecological aspects of the product.
Secondly, there are impulsive, habitual, limited and extensive buying decisions.
The impulsive buying decision is made without conceptual steering. When you decide this way, a reaction (purchase) follows a stimulus (e.g. red price tag, smell of pizza). Everyone decides in an impulsive way sometimes. The disadvantage is that you do not use your possibility for a sustainable consumption choice.
The habitual buying decision is a nearly automatized decision based on earlier experience with the product or service. When you bought one bottle of beer the last three Saturdays, you might buy the same beer the next Saturday as well. Therefore, you can explain brand loyalty or loyalty concerning a special store or supermarket chain as a habitual decision as well.
The concept of habitual buying decisions can help you to decide sustainably as well! When you find a product or service that suits you, e.g. bread from an organic bakery, you can always buy that and this way your behaviour becomes habitual and this simplifies further sustainable behaviour in the future!
You come to a limited buying decision when you only look at a few criteria. A limited buying decision is also made when you decide for a product or service only because of its sustainability. However, on European and American consumer markets the price is one of the most important criteria. Hence many people come to their buying decisions e.g. for food only because of a cheap price. As a result, the price is very often the driving force behind such a buying decision.
Extensive buying decisions are based on a wide range of information. Often the consumer searches for information many months before his buying decision and asks his friends to learn about their experience with a certain product or service. We usually come to this buying decision when buying a very expensive product or service e.g. a new car or a camera. Regrettably, not many people do such a decision including sustainability criteria.
To sum up, the way we come to a decision varies from consumer to consumer. But the average person will tend to decide for the purchase of expensive goods with high-involvement way (respectively extensive) and to buy everyday products with low-involvement (respectively impulsive, habitual or limited). Furthermore he/she might pay attention on buying the product with the highest utility and forget the aspect of sustainability. For that reason, the consumer loses massive potential for sustainable consumption choices,
b) Criteria for (un)sustainable consumption choices
Now I will list some important criteria for economic decisions:
We simply do not think about certain topics. For example, sustainable finance products for private investors or sustainably produced smartphones have not been made a subject of public discussion yet. Therefore, it is difficult to find information or alternatives for unsustainable products and a lot of research is necessary to understand the topic.
Often people also feel overcharged: E.g. there are many different organic/fair trade/sustainability labels concerning food. After all in the European Union all the organic products have to be labelled with the EU-organic label since 2012. The standardisation of seals and the knowledge of their meaning helps to make informed buying decisions.
People might also base their decisions on superficial knowledge or on a lack of knowledge: Some years ago, I thought that meat “from Austria” means automatically that the animals had a good life! Such lack of knowledge results from advertisements or cultural imprint.
Concerning food, we have at least certain guidelines in Western countries concerning organic production. However, fashion companies are not obliged by law to print anything expressive on the tags of their clothes. What does “Made in…” mean? This is not clear, because the whole transportation way of the product or the materials of it is much more contorted. And without expressive information it is merely impossible to make a sustainable consumption choice!
More legal guidelines concerning country & exact location of origin of every single ingredient (not only concerning food), expressive information about the working conditions and environmental impacts of every product are needed!
Many people do not want to know the origin of familiar brand products and see it as a great difficulty to replace an unsustainable but familiar product by a different one. Nutella is good example: Many kids do not want to eat any other nougat cream.
ImageEmbed from Getty Images
#healthylifestyle Concerning food, sustainability is “en vogue”, but what about the smartphone?
Sustainability seems to be much “sexier” concerning certain areas than others. Influencer show us their #healthylifestyle on different social media channels with organic matcha latte in their hands whilst they wear white N*** or A***** sneakers produced under precarious working conditions. And often you can identify ecological fashion as ecological fashion – in earlier times I thought it can never be as stylish as fast fashion. However, there are also stylish And organic clothes but they are much more difficult to find. This leads me to the last two points.
I remember when I started to live Zero Waste: One of the first measures was to replace milk in composite packaging against milk in reusable glass bottles. This was not as easy as it sounds: When I finally found organic shops offering milk in reusable bottles, I often had difficulties with their opening hours. Especially organic shops in little cities or villages have very inconvenient opening times for working people. Moreover, organic shops are rarely in comparison which supermarkets. There are nine supermarkets in my valley but there is only one single organic shop! Due to this it is more complicated to buy sustainable products and services in many regions.
Organic and sustainable products are more expensive in monetary terms. Let us take this as a fact. However, this higher price is justified, because you get value for it: A good conscience. T-shirts for 4,99$ are only possible because somebody else payed for it. Workers which did not get a fair wage and had to handle poisonous chemicals to colour the T-shirt or fish who died because the chemicals are carried into the river…
When you buy sustainably sourced products & services, enterprises integrate the costs of fair payments of workers and the adherence of strict security standards concerning chemicals. Thus, workers and fish do not have to pay for your fashion!
You pay! And that’s fair.
Thus follows: Sustainable goods are not too expensive but unsustainable goods are too cheap!
Due to this the monetary price shall never be the most important argument for a purchase. Because if it is, the unsustainable good will usually be chosen. And in the long run there are no “externalities” because the world is a circular system. This means: In the end, we all pay the price for this.
There are many different factors which lead to (un)sustainable consumption choices. However even the knowledge of these factors can help you to develop an understanding for the way you do decisions and to develop your consumption behaviour towards a more sustainable direction.
What’s more, there are solutions to these difficulties. I outline them in the following chapter.
3. How do I do sustainable consumption choices in a simple and effective way?
When you start to make your buying decisions consciously concerning sustainability it makes sense to tackle at first the aspects of your life that have an ample influence on our environment.
Influence can be defined in different ways: Concerning carbon dioxide emissions, water use, waste production or with calculation concepts like the ecological footprint (how much surface do I need to maintain my lifestyle).Embed from Getty Images
The ecological footprint is calculated with the consideration of the four main parts food & beverage, building & living, mobility and other consumption. And these are also the parts of live where we cause most of our CO2 emissions: 30% for other consumption, 24% for living, 23% for mobility and 13% for nutrition 12 (data for Germany, 2014) .
These numbers show the importance of your consumption behaviour in general!
And they show: Sustainability concerns your whole life beyond nutrition! When you realise this you night ask yourself whether it is possible to make so many informed buying decisions. Can you do all your buying decisions in a high-involvement way (see 2a)?
Such a kind of decision making would cost much time and energy. But when you once did such an extensive respectively high-involvement decision one time concerning sustainability aspects, you can repeat your following decisions and make them habitual!
Informed sustainable consumption decisions – Step by step easier
Image that you want to buy an apple. Based on which criteria you should make your decision? When you want to be fully informed about its ecological and social sustainability aspects and about its taste, you will conduct market research or read magazines. You make a list of all the apples on the market and rank order them concerning criteria like organic, bulk, tasty, …
This way you will only be ready to make an informed decision after the apple season – this would not be sustainable.
Therefore, I want to outline the path towards an easier sustainable consumption choice.
a) What is important for me?
I recommend writing down the most important sustainability aspects of the product in a list. Carefully think about them and decide which characteristics have a high impact and give you an additional value.
The best would be to write such a Charter for every major category mentioned above (food & beverage, building & living, mobility and other consumption). It must not be too long; 2 or 3 basis points are enough.
As an example, you find my sustainability charter for food & beverage here:
1)Bulk: I always buy my food & drink bulk respectively in reusable packaging.
At the same time, this criterion contributes strongly to the buying of unprocessed food. This means: Additional value for me!
2) 100% organic: Fruits and vegetables should always have at least the national organic label, whereas animal products need the national and the “Demeter” organic label.
+Additional criterion for meat: I always want to know the livestock owners personally when I buy their meat. They have to work organically as mentioned and the farmer should meet the principle “feed-no-food”. Moreover, the animals always have to get access to the outside and they have to be butchered without any transportation (in German: “Weideschlachtung”).
3) I want to buy at least 50% food which is grown in a radius of 50 km around my home. Therefore, I also want to foster seasonal fruits and vegetables.
=> This Charter is quite long, you can do it shorter. Try to write clearly measurable goals especially in the first 2 paragraphs. E.g. not “I buy more organic products” but instead “I spend minimum [80%] of my budget for food on organic products.
=> It is not always easy to fulfil such a Charter properly. However, every single conscious consumption decision according to your Charter counts! To make decisions easier, it is important to establish a hierarchy of your goals. This helps you to concentrate on your major goals.
Conflicts of interestEmbed from Getty Images
Especially in my holidays I often had to decide: Shall I buy the vegetables without packaging and without organic label or should I decide for organic vegetables, welded in plastic? According to my Charter, I decided to buy the uncertified vegetables: My priority is to avoid waste. But if I had the choice between unpacked organic and unpacked non-organic products, I would have chosen the organic ones! This is only an example from my Charter. How would you decide in such a situation? It depends on your own Charter.
The Charter can also help you to concentrate on certain labels which are trustworthy and have strict guidelines. I mentioned Demeter in my Charter explicitly because Demeter cows must not be dehorned, secondly, Demeter fosters natural insemination and realizes “Feed no Food”. Define the labels that count for you. So, you can avoid confusion.
The specified rank-ordered goals written down in a clearly formulated way simplify your consumption decisions. And in conclusion you recognise: Making conscious consumption decisions is not that complicated!
b) Where do I find the goods which suit my values?Embed from Getty Images
I recommend writing a list of stores where you can buy the products & services in the important realms (see 3a) according to your sustainability values in the Charter. It is convenient to buy everything in the same discounter. However, such a store cannot fulfil advanced sustainability requirements.
It might be time-consuming to buy often needed goods in many different stores and markets. What could you do to simplify your shopping? Concerning food, one solution might be the farmers market, where you find a variety of products on one market place. Another idea is to join or found a buying syndicate or a food coop.
=> You can found a buying syndicate with some friends, relatives or neighbours. It works like this: One person e.g. buys milk in am organic shop, you buy apples, pears and hazelnuts from a local farmer etc. When you meet you exchange your products and everybody pays for his part. A food coop is basically the same in a bigger form: Here you do not always have to do the shopping. It is also possible to become a member and to get a share of the products which the other members purchased. Members of a food coop usually buy directly from the producer and skip all the retailers. When more people are member in the food coop, it has better conditions to negotiate with the producer. Therefore, the products become cheaper and cheaper for the members and even organic goods only cost as much as conventional ones from the supermarket. More infos: see source 
You can do lots of goods by yourself: Food, little pieces of furniture, some clothes… Here I recommend concentrating on one realm where you like work: I practice “DIY” in the section “food & beverage”: I make marmalades, pickles, syrup, cookies, etc. Moreover, I grow vegetables like potatoes, green beans and different herbs in my garden. However, I cannot stitch very well – a dressmaker in my village does that for me.
Think about buying a made-to-measure item when you buy furniture and clothes! Here you can select size and materials and choose freely also concerning sustainability. The high price is offset: Usually you keep made-to-measure items longer than items from mass-production because you have a personal binding to them.
To conclude, select the stores where you buy products & services meticulously! You can establish greater tansparency when you choose stores where you know the owner personally. A food coop or buying syndicate can help to make your purchase much easier. Anyway, when time passes on, you will become familiar with sustainable shopping in sustainable stores. This also contributes to the establishment of conscious sustainable consumption routine.
c) Establishing routines
When you defined you goals and the stores where you can get all the sustainable products and services, the only thing left is: Action! As I already said it is not always easy especially in the beginning to follow the Charter.
But when you did your shopping one time according to your principles, the following purchases are going to be much easier and faster!
What happened? An extensive decision (sustainable purchase) becomes habitual. You do not have to think about repeated purchases anymore and thus high-involvement decisions become low-involvement ones. This is a major step to ensure that you can buy in the long run and in an efficient way products and services which suit your principles. Then you have time to to make other parts of your consumption life sustainable, until it becomes day-to-day routine again. You recognise: Through repetition, sustainable consumption will not cause more efforts than your old consumption routine!
Sustainable consumption according to your Charter now is no alternative any more, but a part of your daily life!
d) Buy less!
When you buy less, you make less buying decisions. This simplifies conscious consumption further. Buying less corresponds to common principles of sustainability. It means that less resources are wasted and that you use goods longer. You need less money when you buy less products, and you can use this to buy more services, e.g. the repairing of your kitchen table instead of buying a new one.
Therefore, I used the term “Products and Services” throughout the whole text! If you have to choose whether you should buy a product or a service, choose the service: Usually it is a more sustainable decision!
When you buy less food respectively only the quantities you really need, you further prevent food waste and save money (average $640 for an average American household per year). Here a shopping list really helps!
When you make a major buying decision, always ask yourself the following questions and answer them carefully: Do I really need this product? If yes, could I also purchase a second-hand one? Or can I make DIY?
A good example is the smartphone: Everybody has one and I use it too for professional and personal reasons. However, I bought my last smartphone 5 years ago. When it broke down, I did not want to buy a new one anymore because the common smartphone producers did not respect my sustainability values. The working conditions are too unfair, commodities are extracted in a tremendous way, the product is transported around the globe,…. Therefore, I decided to only use second-hand smartphones.
No matter how sustainable a product is:
“Every not produced smartphone is the best smartphone.“
(sentence fits every product: laptop, clothes, etc.).
There are many reasons why people consume (un)sustainable. The consciousness about the buying decisions we do every day helps to understand behaviour and apply solutions.
Your own consumption decisions are remarkably relevant, as proved in the first chapter, everybody produces carbon dioxide, waste and waste water every day. Thus, you can make a difference!
The recommendations in Chapter 3 shall help you to start Today to develop your Charter for sustainability and to realize it.
When you start with your Charter in one consumption realm e.g. food & beverage and move forward towards other realms you can easily move your consumption towards sustainability. The development of routines helps you to simplify sustainable buying decisions and to make them a familiar part of your daily life. Finally, “buying less” supports your contribution to sustainability further.Embed from Getty Images
True consumption democracy heralds a new era in western consumption. It is time not only to elect in the political sphere but also to vote with consumption decisions in the economic sphere for a sustainable, for a fair, for a liveable world! Every day.
To give examples for a Charter and to show the influence of different parts of life on our ecological footprint, further articles concerning the most important consumption realms follow.
 Beispiel aus dem Energiebereich: Soll ich dieses Jahr lieber die Erdölheizung durch eine Wärmepumpe ersetzen oder Photovoltaikpanels auf dem Dach installieren?