Why Become an Ethical Consumer, Part One

Why Ethical Consumerism is Important, overconsumption, black friday

The first question I receive from folks who hear about my new choices in fashion and consumerism is often, “WHY?” As in, “Why go to all that trouble? How much difference does that really make?” and “What’s wrong with wanting nice, new things?” and “Why should I care about what’s happening to people I have nothing in common with, halfway across the globe?” The last sentiment is one that I find the most problematic but if altruism isn’t a convincing cause, perhaps data will be.

The questions “WHY” are perfectly valid and deserve an answer. Even if you already understand the effects of overconsumption on our planet, economy, and societies, I think it’s useful to review the information and remember what’s really important. For me, what’s really important is to have my needs met, to be in good health, and to have a fulfilling life of Joy and adventure and surprises. Your definition may vary but I suspect that we are all more similar than not and that we are happiest when we keep to our simplest definition of Joy and consider things outside it as blessings. Let’s press on and tackle the first WHY.

Why go to that trouble? Can I really make an impact?

The short answer is YES! Of course! Consider this:

  • Americans purchase an estimated 20 billion articles of clothing a year, give or take. That breaks down to about 70 garments per person each year, or an average of more than one purchase a week. (source)
  • Americans are in a lot of debt. The average indebted household carries a credit card balance in excess of $15,000. Some of that debt MUST have been incurred purchasing all of the “stuff” referenced above. (source) Additionally, while overall indebtedness is falling in America, the source referenced here states that it is more due to defaults than repayment. Added to that, Americans are saving less money than in the past and are also socking away less than citizens of other nations. (source)
  • Clothes are inexpensive in an unprecedented way. Clothes spending in the 1960s accounted for over 10% of a household’s budget but the average person bought less than 25 items. (source)
  • Clothes cost less and we buy more of them. So what happens once we are tired of them or they fall apart? We throw them out. Apart from what is donated, given away, or resold, we throw 11.1 MILLION TONS of textiles into landfills. (source)

Why Ethical Consumerism is Important, the high cost of cheap fashion

The big picture? We are a nation of over-consumers. We have a lot of stuff and a lot of debt to go with it. We have thinner safety nets than ever. And we are wasting a ton of resources only to throw stuff away in the end. Cutting your consumption of cheap fashion will immediately help you in a direct way by allowing your money to do better things than end up in a landfill but also contribute to a better planet. Those are reasons to go to some trouble, if you ask me! What do you think?

Stay tuned for more answers and more data as I tackle the other WHYs in segments to follow.

(images courtesy Southern Savers and Care 4 Kids Worldwide)


  1. says

    These things were of great concern to me when(and part of the reason I left) the US. My answer to the clothing issue in addition to owning less…a lot…less, Felipe and I share a very small closet. I only buy used clothes, and I gratefully except hand me downs : ) Onward to part two!


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