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Keeping it simple with sustainable consumption

Choice paralysis

Photo credit: Maclauren70 (Flickr)

Warning: too much choice can lead to ethical-consumer paralysis!

A famous experiment offered consumers a choice of either 6 or  24 different flavored jams with a discount for purchase*. We think more choice is always better – but consumers were 10 times more likely to buy a jar of jam when they only had to choose from 6 options.

The experiment, which has been replicated for other products in different circumstances, suggested that too many choices can lead us to walk away, making no choice at all.

It’s not just buying jam. When overwhelmed by choice, picking can be tricky no matter the product or issue.

Once you start looking, it’s easy to find options and advice about how to make more sustainable consumer decisions. But it isn’t always simple to work out what action to take. We have competing desires and drives. There’s lots of information but no easy way to rank its importance or assess its accuracy. There seems to be an awful lot of things we should be doing – the temptation is to think that we can’t do them all, so why do any?

Two rules to keep it simple

Mike Berners-Lee, author of How Bad are Bananas, suggests two key rules to keep it simple.

First, don’t obsess about smaller things –  “go for the big hitters“.

When it comes to climate change, the “big hitters” are food, transport and energy use. In Australia, electricity generation alone is responsible for around 54 per cent of our total greenhouse pollution. But turning off the lights alone won’t have much impact.

This same “big hitters” logic can be applied to other areas of concern.

We can’t fix everything through our consumer actions, so we need to figure out the things that matter the most for each of the issues we care about, whether that’s animal rights, preserving the environment, fair trade for farmers or the rights of workers in factories in the developing world.

Berners-Lee’s second tip is to focus on actions that are going to stick. Think about the sustainable and ethical habits that will also improve your quality of life: habits that you will want to hold on to. Pick things you already want to change, or ones that you can make enjoyable. If you don’t like driving on your own, think about sharing with others as both a solution to your problem and a way to reduce your footprint. Find things that you can turn into habits that are rewarding for both you and the planet.

And then you can stop stressing about it

Stop feeling guilt about every little choice or action. Find out about the big-hitting issues in the areas you care about and find a way to make a difference, and then develop some “good for the planet” habits that work for you.

If you get these two right – the big hitters and the habits that will stick – you’ll have gone a long way to making a difference.

So how is Otter helping?

We bring you information from around the web, together with expert advice from qualified guest writers. Our focus is on practical information that you can act on, from high-quality sources.

While we aim to provide advice about the issues that matter the most, ultimately it’s up to each of us to take actions that build a great lifestyle that reflects our values. At Otter, we will always offer a broad spread of content. That will include information about meaningful actions on “big hitter” issues and a range of options that may fit the lifestyle you want to build.


One Response to Keeping it simple with sustainable consumption

  1. Gregory John Olsen July 27, 2016 at 11:43 pm #

    I concur with the sentiment of this article. My wife and I are continually thwarted trying to source sustainable and ethically made products from dishwashing scrubbers to sheer curtains. Plastic is everywhere, often hidden. Retailers are commonly unaware of the make up of the goods they sell. Outdoor furniture is another case in point. It is almost impossible to ascertain whether it is made from endangered rainforest timber! 🙁

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