What Lily Cole taught me about being a conscious consumer


Recently, I was lucky enough to sit in on a keynote speech by the lovely Lily Cole. She spoke about many significant things, including the power of literacy and the creation of a gift economy, but one spoke to me above all else. As she talked us through her journey towards becoming a conscious consumer, I felt a sense of guilt that I’d not yet done the same.

I’d like to consider myself a friend of the planet and mankind. I never litter, recycle as much as possible, avoid products made with palm oil, have strong views against human exploitation, and am mindful not to waste electricity or water. However, as I looked up at the model-turned-philanthropist, who could passionately declare that she always knows where her products come from, I realised I could not say the same.

Until now, my purchase decisions have largely been made based on convenience or vanity, rather than their consequential effects on the planet we all have to share and human lives that are no more or less valuable than my own—but that’s going to change.

After a bit of research, I’ve been able to come up with five, simple actions that we can all take as first steps towards becoming a conscious consumer.

1.    Read the label
I know I’m not the only one guilty of searching food labels to check their nutritional value and calorie count. Giving the same attention to ingredients lists will help to identify any nasty inclusions such as palm oil, or microbeads where cosmetics and cleaning products are concerned.

2.    Do your research
Similarly, how many of us trawl the internet browsing for products and subsequent reviews? If we spend just a fraction of that time googling the manufacturing company and their practices, we’d probably think twice about ‘proceeding to checkout’.

3.   Is this a need or a want?
Learning to define needs vs wants is one of the most important things we can do for our planet. Quite simply, the rates of material consumption we currently see are not sustainable and our resources will run out.

*side note, if you find yourself with items that no longer fall into either the need or want category, make sure you’re donating them. Something that no longer means anything to you could mean the world to someone else.

4.    Spend more, less often
I’m not sure about you, but I could fill a room with all of the things I own that were ‘kinda cute’, ‘could come in handy’, or ‘too good a price not to buy’. Whilst the allure of impulse purchasing can be hard to resist, it’s important to know that the practice isn’t just dangerous to our purses. There’s a reason that certain brands are able to keep their prices so low, and it usually pertains to unethical working conditions and sourcing of products. We all know that fashions fade, but style is everlasting—so why not spend more on higher-quality products, less often.

5.    Shop local and shop seasonal
Shopping locally is something we can all do to support our resident economy and nurture young talent—not to mention, you’re more likely to get better quality, unique products that will leave all of your friends and family in awe. Shopping seasonally from local vendors significantly reduces the chances that your produce has been grown in unknown conditions, wrapped in plastic and sent to the other side of the world—you may not get the most consistently pretty apples, but they sure will be delicious and guilt-free!