In the face of climate change and energy challenges, what creative ways are you finding to forge healthy and durable lives and communities? Send submissions — five hundred words or fewer — to Orion, 187 Main Street, Great Barrington, MA 01230, or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Submissions become property of Orion.
Conscious Consuming is a nonprofit in the Boston area formed to help people get in touch with their values to better prioritize time, money, and material things. Americans are largely defined as consumers: we work long hours so that we have money to buy all the goodies we want. We now have a negative personal savings rate and less vacation time than any other industrialized country. We produce four to five pounds of garbage per person every single day. Consumption is the elephant in every living room, and most environmental organizations don’t want to talk about it for fear of alienating their constituents.
Somehow the ability to throw things away to buy bigger, better, newer models became a status symbol in our country, and buying secondhand or not buying at all became a vision of poverty rather than thrift or conservation. Yet most religious traditions advocate sharing over hoarding, community over commodities. Studies show that after the basics (food, shelter, clothing) are taken care of, human happiness ratings do not increase as wealth increases.
Conscious Consuming encourages people to really think about their core values and then align their buying decisions with them. We host free seasonal events in the Boston area to provide a discussion forum, often with a local speaker. In the last two years we have hosted Juliet Schor, author of The Overworked American and The Overspent American; Josh Grobin from the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood; and Mark Smith from Farm Aid. Our signature event, now in its fifth year, is Gift It Up, Boston’s only alternative gift fair. We invite area nonprofits to the fair, and participants come and make donations in a loved one’s name in lieu of buying more stuff. The concept keeps stuff out of the waste stream and allows local nonprofits to showcase and receive donations for their causes.
People come out of our programs supporting different things, but all seem to develop a more positive sustainability outlook. Whether through supporting local economies, fair trade, organic markets, the green economy, bartering systems, or buying secondhand, conscious consumers can make a difference.