Decision making is complex and our ethical and sustainable attitudes and intentions don't alway translate in actual ethical buying behaviour.
Ahead of the holiday season, we suggest three easy and proven ways to master the art of conscious gifting and keep the temptation of thoughtless consumerism at bay.
Make a plan, focus on your intentions and eliminate the noise.
Be a conscious consumer! Vote with your wallet! Make ethical and sustainable choices!
We all know or at least heard the mantra that every time we spend money we cast a vote for the kind of world we want to live in. There is a lot of expectations as consumers, we are supposed to support the economy, particularly at time of crisis, whilst making ethical and sustainanle choices and care about the environment.
This approaching holiday season is going to be even harder with raising costs and less disposable income, choosing sustainable products can be even more difficult, given they normally come with a higher price tag.
This is maybe a great opportunity to buy less and better and give your loved ones something to cherish and that will last. Or perhaps even better, to give nothing at all, to spend the money making a meal, crafting an object or gifting an experience that will enrich and not something useless that will ultimately be thrown at the bottom of a drawer and forgotten.
Conscious consumerism or the act of being more aware and mindful of our purchasing habits and how they impact the world around us is undeniably in vogue.
It’s interesting to notice however that this isn’t something new. The criticism of a materialistic society that places growth and material wealth above justice, wellbeing and human safety and dignity is as old as the industrial revolution (think William Morris, the Arts & Craft movement and writers like Thorstein Veblen).
The concerns about the consequences of our consumption on the environment have been subject of international summits of world leaders since the 1970s and yet it's 2022 and we are still discussing the same issues, without addressing the core of the problem.
I am not sure about you, but this is just a bit puzzling to me. Of course it’s important to preserve jobs and we are told that it is our civic responsibility to shop to support the economy. I am also perfectly aware that not everyone in this current dire economic landscape with the potential of job losses can afford to avoid big discounts and Amazon deals.
However there is plenty of evidence that our thoughtless consumerism is the cause of much of the planet’s environmental problems, and impacts negatively on our wellbeing.
So how can we be more effective in our pursuit of a more sustainable and ethical living?
How can we make sure that when it comes to really making that decision between a product that is cheaper and hip and a more expensive ethical piece we stick to our intentions?
Ahead of Black Friday frenzy and holiday shopping, I share some practical tips from my own personal experience as well as my academic research ( besides running Revolution of Forms, I hold a MSc in Psychology and my final research project was focussed on sustainable buying behaviour.)
MAKE A PLAN - GIFTING WISHLIST
Research shows that there is a gap between attitude, intentions and behaviour. We might be planning to shop ethically, but when it comes to it other more pressing and persuasive variables play into our decision, sometimes without us even realising.
Sales, offers, even colours used in an ad or a product can influence our ultimate decisions.
The good news is that we still have free will, and this is where awareness and mindful behaviour can help us stick to our plans.
First we need to have a plan.
Research shows that the best way to stick to our intentions to be ethical is to ‘implement a plan’.
When we make a conscious plan of how we want to behave, in this case what we want to buy, we shield our intentions from unwanted influences, we avoid the conflicts between our moral imperatives and the civic call to consume and we help form new habits (Akenji, 2013).
On a practical level the way I do this is using Pinterest. Every time I see something that I am interested in either online or on instagram I pin it or save it in a Christmas gifting board. It’s a secret board so I am the only one with access to it.
When it comes to the time to purchase something for a loved one I have plenty to choose from. I have a list of brands I like, that I researched and I am satisfied that they meet my conscious living requirements.
If you don’t use Pinterest then use a Wishlist. So far this has been the most effective way for me to stick to my ethical plans. This works particularly well for ethical brands that don’t have a huge turnaround in their stock.
At Revolution of Forms we provide a wishlist functionality and our collection isn’t seasonal. We believe in supporting our makers all-year-around. Also I am a great advocate of personal connections. We are not Amazon, we thrive to offer a very tailored customer-service, you can ask questions, we have helped customers with special commissions, personalised gifts, and more. This is what I am here for, so just say hi!
FOCUS ON YOUR INTENTIONS
If you are familiar with mindfulness and meditation this is going to be a very easy tip.
Research shows that measuring people’s intentions can affect people’s conduct. We can facilitate a particular behaviour by thinking about that behaviour and focus our intentions on it. If we associate the behaviour with a positive feeling then we can also slowly create a habit of it.
An easy example for me comes from buying craft instead of buying from big companies. The way I moved effectively from buying objects for my house from big companies like Zara Home or H&M has been focusing on the negative feelings this type of consumption brought me. The more I researched and heard about their business practices, their impact on the environment, their greenwashing attempts (seemingly quite effective) and their questionable ethical behaviour the more I felt genuinely upset every time I saw an ad or I passed by their shops on the high street. I rewired my brain to think negatively about them therefore I wouldn’t think for a second to buy from them, because it would genuinely hurt me. A bit much? Yes maybe, everyone has to find their own ways to make ethical and sustainable living choices and this was an effective one for me.
Now when I buy handmade pieces, when I learn about the story behind the objects, how they impact the makers, both financially and in terms of their wellbeing, I feel good. Not good in a philanthropic way, good about the positive feelings that purchase brings me. The benefit of buying certain products is first and foremost because they bring happiness to my life in a way other things don’t. They help me fulfil my personal goals of being more sustainable and put my money where my values are. When you make a contact with a maker, or buy from a small ethical brand I know from my experience that you can have a positive impact on them. Your choice is important and however small the impact might be it’s still a step forward.
ELIMINATE THE NOISE: UNFOLLOW, UNSUBSCRIBE
You probably heard of a very well documented psychological effect called priming that is used very effectively in the social media marketing handbook.
“Priming is a phenomenon whereby exposure to one stimulus influences a response to a subsequent stimulus, without conscious guidance or intention” (Wikipedia definition).
For example we see the same ad over and over again on our social media and suddenly we find ourselves scrolling through and even buying stuff from brands that we do not want to support.
I have few practical tips to suggest to avoid falling for it.
Unsubscribe and unfollow. If you still follow on social media or if you receive newsletters from brands you perhaps feel a bit guilty of buying from, then the first step is stop seeing them. If you were trying to cut your alcohol intake for example you wouldn’t keep a house full of wine. If you get bombarded by emails and notifications about Black Friday sales it will be far more difficult to avoid buying something you don’t need or want. (Plenty of research also shows that consumers even end up buying things they already own.)
In the book ‘Nudge’ the Nobel prize winner Richard Thaler there is a whole chapter about resisting temptations. Mindless choosing and self-control problems combined lead us to behave in ways that we intended not to. So do the simple thing unfollow, unsubscribe and every time an ad shows up on your social media that you don’t want to see tell the algorithm. I do this on Instagram and Pinterest and I don’t see ads from big fast fashion companies anymore for example.
Block ads on your browser. I can’t recommend BRAVE browser enough. It automatically blocks ads for you so you can surf the internet in peace. They even implemented a system of rewards. If you do want to see ads they will pay you for it.
Of course one could argue why buying objects or gifting anything in the first place? Surely the best way to help the environment is to stop consuming. This is true if you are able to live happily as a minimalist, good for you. However research also shows that objects are important vehicles of self-expression, think about fashion for example, they help us to define who we are personally and within a social context, also design can spark inspiration and empower people, enabling us to exercise more compassion and empathy (there are evidence for this as well.)
So I hope these are some useful practical tips to make your gifting more ethical and sustainable.
The best part, it’s free and it will only take some easy work to implement.