ANALYSIS: Responsible Consumption Part 1

Dispatch From SSC Intern Kang Chang

Consumer spending accounts for 70.5% of the nation’s economic activity.  Although this percentage is expected to decrease after the recession, the consumption of physical products will very much remain a large portion of our economy.  Consumer spending fuels a currently toxic industrial production process.  According to the Department of Energy, industry is directly responsible for more than 27% of total GHG emissions in the US, or 1.64 billion metric tons of CO2e. These industrial processes do not just emit pollution that contribute to global climate change but they are also responsible for an enormous amount of resource use, waste production, and toxic chemicals in our environment. 

Coffee from your local grocery store, for example, is typically purchased from an industrial producer.  Throughout the production process, 1 liter (4.2 cups) of coffee requires approximately 1,120 liters (almost 300 gallons) of water to get into your mug.

Is there an alternative?  Can we write to our Congressperson in favor of regulations on resource use intensity, pollutants and waste allowances?  Sure, but we can also flex the power of our dollar votes to support companies whose products and practices are in line with our ideals. 

Our society is beginning to adopt expectations for companies to be more environmentally and socially responsible, and at the same time we have access to immense amounts of information that we can use to evaluate a corporation’s effects on the environment, community and economy.  Paying a premium to buy widgets produced in a sustainable way gives incentives for more companies to follow suit.  Through knowledge and collective action, consumers have to power to shift the way companies do business. 

The movement to consume responsibly is alive and well.  It goes by many names and various campaigns cover many socio-environmental issues.   In the next part we will take a look at the various issues and the personal consumption choices one can take to help make the world a better place.