Sustainability is the word of the hour. It’s cool to be sustainable, especially when it comes to the consumer. As consumers become increasingly aware of their impact on the environment, they are questioning the brands they consume and demand transparency with how sustainable their products actually are.

Can consumerism actually be sustainable, when in truth it just sounds like a paradox? Sustainable consumerism, or at the very least, awareness in consumerism, denotes a ‘moral act’ with every purchase made – shifting the responsibility from the manufacturer to the consumer (which could be a further discussion for another day). Nevertheless, sustainable living can be summarised as a change in mindset as to where our individual happiness comes from, moving away from satisfaction achieved from material objects.

What is ‘Consumerism’ All About?

Consumerism refers to the tendency of people living in a capitalist economy to engage in a lifestyle of excessive materialism that revolves around reflexive, wasteful, or conspicuous overconsumption. It is presented as a social movement that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts, seeking to argue the rights and powers of buyers in relation to sellers. The mentality is simple: sellers want to influence products and marketing practices onto the consumers in ways that suggest an increase in the consumer’s quality of life. Consumer behaviours and interactions help companies to decide what products and services to manufacture or offer.

The implication of the concept of sustainability within that of consumerism has increased throughout various sectors of society due to the increasing trend and demand for environmental change. The original definition of ‘sustainability’ dates back to 1987, where sustainability was defined as the ability of meeting the needs of the present generation, without compromising the needs of future generations. Sustainability also includes the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources, so as to maintain an ecological balance, whilst taking into account concerns on social equity and economic development.

Green Consumerism

Sustainable, or ‘green’ consumerism constitutes a sector of growing interest among numerous individuals. In fact, sustainable consumption has been enshrined in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, under Goal 12. Today, various international brands, including for example ‘Beyond Meat’, ‘Siemens’ and ‘Patagonia’, strive to focus on sustainability, and to incorporate sustainable practices and measures in their processes. The aforementioned brands provide consumers with products that are sustainable, efficacious, fashionable and of good quality.

A study was conducted in 2015 by Goldman Sachs, an investment banking company in the US, which focused on individuals’ nutritious interests. The results of this study highlighted that approximately 10% of the US population showed great interest in consuming products which are sustainable. By 2019, this percentage increased quite significantly, to approximately 50%. It was indicated that the majority of this percentage was made up of millennials. In fact, in 2015, 35% of millennials were deemed to be the most interested category when it comes to sustainability matters, which increased to 70% in 2019 and is noticeably continuing to accelerate.

How Has COVID-19 Impacted This Field?

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of sustainability intensified dramatically. Research shows that the main cause of this was due to the fact that since individuals were forced into living, and even working from home, trends show that many individuals and families had more time to clean out their cupboards and closets, resulting in them gaining a greater understanding of what they were consuming and the effects of such consumption, both on their lives, and on the environment.

Additionally, due to this growing interest, investors have also jumped on the bandwagon and shown a great amount of interest in this ever-growing sector. ESG (Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance) investors are looking for companies that are environmentally friendly, and which focus on the reduction of their carbon footprint and emissions.

Green Deal Malta’s Top Recommendations for Responsible Consumption

Here are our top tips on how you can consume more responsibly:

  • The most sustainable product is the one that you don’t have – avoid wasteful consumerism;
  • Use reusable eco-friendly bags rather than plastic bags;
  • Choose to purchase eco-friendly products, from platforms such as ‘Eco Market Malta’;
  • Opt for local products to help reduce transportation needs and reduce the carbon footprint of what you consume;
  • Avoid single-use plastics such as plastic cups, straws, bags, cutlery etc.;
  • Where possible, try to purchase products made from recycled materials;
  • Turn to purchasing second-hand products when possible, such as clothes, appliances, home decor items and so on, from platforms such as ‘Depop’;
  • Repair torn or worn-out shoes, accessories, bags, belts, and clothes through platforms such as ‘Whizzfix’;
  • Create a ‘Tree Free Home’ by replacing paper napkins with reusable ones, reusing envelopes and wrapping paper, and going digital;
  • Drink filtered tap water rather than purchasing bottled water to avoid unnecessary plastic packaging, through platforms such as ‘TAPP Water Malta’;
  • Avoid unnecessary trash – for example when ordering food, avoid accepting any unnecessary plastic utensils/straws/napkins etc.;
  • Carry a reusable flask with you, to use even when receiving take-out beverages;
  • Adapt to a more ‘green lifestyle’ in every aspect of your life, including your home, workplace, when travelling abroad, and so on; and
  • Have a look at Fashion Revolution University of Malta’s top 8 tips on how to get into slow fashion.

Growing consumer consciousness has definitely boosted green consumerism. Today, consumers are increasingly adopting sustainable consumption habits, evaluating their purchase choices, and tending to opt for brands and products which are more eco-friendly. Marketers and brand specialists must play an important role in encouraging green consumerism and pushing this movement forwards – but it is imperative that they understand their social responsibility in avoiding greenwashing (the act of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound) at all costs.

Buy less; choose well; and make it last.