Be a Conserver, Not a Consumer

Are you buying it? Becoming a conserver requires a change in consciousness more than a change in shopping habits.

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During the last 50 years in the United States—and in much of the world—transnational corporations have treated humans as consumers rather than individuals. The growth of the global free-market system demands a consumer culture that amounts to a never-ending shopping experience. Today, nearly 70 percent of our gross domestic product is based on consumer spending. Though some of that spending is responsible, most of it is not.

The tide is turning. As our economy has weakened and we’ve become more aware of our gargantuan impact on the planet, many of us are considering how we live, work and play. We want to be conservers, not consumers. Instead of burning through resources and reducing possibilities for future generations, “ecopreneurs”—business owners who focus on environmental and community goals in addition to financial ones—and the “conserver customers” who support them are working to create a restoration economy.

Becoming a conserver requires a change in consciousness more than a change in shopping habits. It means consuming less and reusing whatever we can, and meeting needs but not every desire. Conservers mindfully approach purchases, consider how products affect the planet and its citizens, and recognize that we live in a world with finite resources and a growing human population. We could make our use of natural capital regenerative and restorative by using and reusing only natural materials that can be returned to the earth as nutrients after use—we work together to foster the circular process. Organic farms thrive based on this practice. Healthy ecological systems produce no waste; the same is true of a restoration economy.

To create a new and prosperous restoration economy, to accomplish the revitalization work necessary to restore the planet to ecological health, and to provide greater social equity both nationally and globally, we need a new approach to economics—one that considers the laws of nature, not just the laws of supply and demand. Adopting a conserver philosophy and lifestyle can help us regain control over how we live.

Stop spending mindlessly. Invest in quality and durability.

Money is a tool of exchange. Used wisely, it can help enterprises whose missions include making the world a better place and serving the community. Before buying anything, consider the values of the company you’re investing in. Choose high-quality products that are durable, recycled and recyclable, nontoxic, and sustainably and fairly made. By buying less, we can often afford to buy durable items of higher quality that were made conscientiously.

Help build a restoration economy.

In his book reWealth! (McGraw-Hill, 2008), Storm Cunningham describes a new economy “derived from replenishing depleted natural and cultural resources; from remediating contaminated properties; and by restoring, renovating, reusing or otherwise increasing the capacity and efficiency of an aging built environment.” If you’re not already doing so, create a company or organization that thrives on abundance in the restoration economy or find a company to work for that does. When you invest in anything, see to it that your money serves to restore ecological systems, generate renewable energy or foster urban revitalization. It’s becoming easier these days because R-words—rebuild, revitalize, renewable—dominate mainstream discourse and economic activity.

Support a local, ecopreneurial, ownership economy.

In an ecopreneurial ownership economy, everyone has an opportunity to be enterprising. Rather than shipping products halfway around the world, neighbors and community members conduct commercial transactions locally. Employees are allowed to own at least part of the companies they work for, so they’re vested in long-term success and participate directly in decision-making. All businesses have triple bottom lines, addressing social, environmental and economic considerations, and they have both a return on investment (ROI) and a return on environment (ROE). One such ROE might be how much surplus renewable energy the business generates.

Return to community.

We don’t have to define wealth in terms of money. Why not define it by relationships, friendships and community well-being? Public lands, parks and the commonwealth, once heralded by attractive town centers, can bring us together again, to share, care and socialize in ways that don’t demand big machines and lots of fossil fuels. Start regular potlucks, host musical concerts and art exhibits, and find other ways to share your  talents with people in your community. Instead of keeping score in life by the size of your home or bank account, consider the number of educational events you might host in your community or new friendships you’ve made through volunteering your time or skills. 

Follow nature’s model: reduce, reuse, recycle.

Reducing consumption contributes to numerous positive impacts on the environment while also saving you money, which you can reinvest in more important things such as maintaining your physical fitness or growing some of your own food. From living in an appropriately sized home to selecting materials that divert waste streams from the landfill, renewing your commitment to reducing, reusing and recycling shaves your ecological footprint while increasing your quality of life. Frugality is as much an ecological idea as an economic one. For many who adopt voluntary simplicity, cultivating fewer wants leads to greater achievement, satisfaction and happiness in life, leaving plenty of time to play with the kids, tend the garden or do the things we love to do.

Leave the cash-only economy behind.

A barter economy fosters exchanges among community members without money. Reuse or gift economies restore relationships where people care for each other and circulate and trade goods or services. For example, when we grow too many tomatoes, we gift them to neighbors who might not have a garden. An endless supply of reused scrap paper for printing in a home office might come from your local library or school.