A list of frequently asked questions and tips to help you be a mindful consumer.

Is there any history around the mindful consumption movement?

The concept of mindfulness is found in many different worldviews and religions. Its roots can be traced back to the principles of Buddhism, which defines mindfulness as  a “deliberate and conscious focus on the present moment”. This approach sees mindfulness as a value which can be achieved through a variety of practices, which shape our relationship with the animate and inanimate world. It stresses on the importance of the middle way, eschewing both the extremes of complete asceticism and unbridled materialism. This idea was further explored through economic theory in the 20th century by the revolutionary thinker, E.F. Schumacher in his seminal book, Small is Beautiful. More recently, this idea has gained further momentum under the complimentary concept of The Circular Economy.

What are some everyday items I can buy or use sustainably?

Have you ever wondered what types of products you can use to be more sustainable? Here’s a list of some examples for you to consider for your own daily routine:

In your Bathroom
  • Bamboo toothbrush
  • Reusable make-up remover pads
  • Recycled toilet tissue
  • Reusable razor
  • Solid shampoo and conditioner
  • Refillable makeup
  • Bamboo cotton swabs
  • Reusable menstrual products (menstrual cup, reusable pads, period panties)
In your Kitchen
  • Reusable bags
  • Reusable coffee cup
  • Reusable water bottle
  • Reusable snack bags
  • Bee wax lunch wraps
  • Solid dishwasher
In your Backpack

Notebooks with minimum 30% (or higher!) post-consumer recycled (PCR) content or alternative fibre paper.

In your Bedroom
  • Used clothes (remember: the best choice is keeping what you already have! But if you need new ones, why not check out some thrift stores?)
  • Rechargeable batteries

Is it convenient to switch to a sustainable lifestyle?

Life as a college student is not easy, especially when it comes to managing your finances. You might have to deal with multiple expenses throughout the school year, like rent and tuition. Often, opting for sustainable products sounds like a niche choice, especially when it comes to some brands, which can be expensive. However, it does not have to be like that.

Switching to a sustainable lifestyle can be more convenient because it’s more about reducing, repairing and reusing than buying new products. If you make your items last longer, you won’t need to buy new ones, which means your upfront investment will be repaid. For example, a solid bar of shampoo might cost you 10$ instead of 6$, but then last for 6 months instead of 4.

Sustainable purchases often cost less than conventional products when the total cost of ownership is taken into account.

What is ‘Greenwashing’ and how can I recognize it?

Greenwashing is a term referring to the provision and dissemination of false or misleading information about the sustainability of a company’s product or service. Companies responsible for greenwashing spend more money and time portraying themselves as environmentally friendly, rather than actually making efforts to introduce sustainability in their business strategies and operations. 

Since our time and information available as customers is limited, it can be very hard to spot greenwashing. Hard, but not impossible! There are some effective strategies you can use to recognize greenwashing and avoid getting tricked. 

1. Look for proof. Companies make a lot of claims, but how many of them are actually true? As a consumer, you should always be able to verify a company’s environmental claims, especially ones without scientific evidence. If you are not, such lack of transparency already represents a red flag. 

2. Be aware of hidden trade-offs. Companies might label their products “sustainable” based on a specific set of attributes, but you should always ask yourself “what’s not included?”. If important information – like the amount of GHG emissions produced, or the process through which the products were made – are missing, this might be a sign of greenwashing. 

3. Recognize vagueness. A product can be described as “recycled”, “green”, “natural”, and so on. These are all terms that do not mean anything, since they do not specify what they are referring to. What is the definition of “green”? And which parts of a certain item were actually recycled? If this is not explicitly stated, you are probably dealing with greenwashing. 

4. Distinguish relevant from irrelevant information. Not every claim made by a company is necessarily false. However, they might not be of any significance in terms of their environmental impact. For example, a paper company stating that they use “all natural materials” is irrelevant, since all paper companies do. 

5. Don’t let them sell you the “lesser of the two evils”. Some products are extremely damaging to the environment, but they may be depicted as beneficial due to a specific feature. A company can define their SUVs “fuel-efficient”, but this is just a way to distract consumers from the real environmental impacts. 

6. Are you fibbing me? Some environmental claims are not only difficult to verify, but also completely false. When a company’s website declares to respect certain official standards or to possess specific environmental certifications, this does not necessarily mean that they actually do. 

7. Check for hyperboles. Overstatements and suggestive imagery are extremely common on a company’s website and in their advertisement campaigns. These might not represent false information per se, but the risk is to exaggerate the benefits provided. For instance, stating that “our furniture is now made with 50% more recycled materials” might just mean that the company only increased the amount from 2% to 3% of the total piece of furniture. 

Some instances of greenwashing are harder to spot, but hopefully if you follow these simple tricks to recognize greenwashing, you will be able to avoid being fooled.