Eco TreeEach day we make choices that impact the earth: the transportation we choose, how we manage energy around our home, where we put our empty soda cans. We also affect the environment every time we take out our wallets to make a purchase.

Responsible consuming is the practice of buying environmentally friendly and socially just goods and services, and avoiding those that aren’t.

Responsible consuming is a huge component of waste prevention. Waste prevention (or source reduction) means eliminating waste before it’s created by purchasing products with less packaging, reusing goods instead of throwing them away, using up products completely and eliminating waste whenever possible. Waste prevention saves resources, promotes efficiency, reduces pollution and may even save money.

Reducing your own carbon footprint is a good enough reason to spend wisely. But advocates of responsible consuming point to an even greater benefit: influencing manufacturers, distributors and shop owners to deliver safer, better products.

Whether you are irked by excessive plastic packaging or toilet paper made from old growth forest trees, know that by making thoughtful and educated purchases, you can make a difference. Every time you make a purchase, you are casting a vote with your wallet.

Here are some tips for making responsible consuming a regular habit in your household:

  • Get educated. A great primer to responsible consumption, read this educational resource published by UN Environment Programme.
  • Ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” If yes, first review what reuse options are available before buying new.
  • Buy green whenever possible. Many online retailers, such as Eco-Products sell goods made from recyclable and/or sustainably produced materials. Green America’s National Green Pages features hundreds of business listings. More tips for buying green:
    • Bring a reusable shopping bag to the store.
    • Buy in bulk when possible.
    • Avoid individually wrapped or single-serving products.
    • Choose products with refillable or reusable containers.
    • Buy fresh produce without packaging.
  • How you use your product is just as important as what you buy. Recycle your post-consumer recycled paper, turn out your energy-efficient lights when you aren’t home, and bike to work even if there is a Prius sitting in your driveway.
  • Join a campaign to change how a product is made if you are dissatisfied with how a manufacturer is producing it. For example, the California Product Stewardship Council helped students at Sun Valley Elementary School in San Rafael, CA, with an online petition on asking Crayola to start a take-back program for plastic markers. Not only was the campaign successful, but it also inspired other companies to start similar take-back programs. Phone calls and emails to manufacturers and lawmakers can be effective, too.