Be Inspiring -- Consume Consciously

Another month, another record maximum temperature. January was the hottest month in recorded history -- the ninth consecutive month of hitting this milestone, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its 137 years of data. While El Niño was certainly to blame for recent extremes, the underlying direction is clear.

Not believing in climate change is now almost as absurd as not believing in gravity.

As a society, one of the simplest ways we begin to combat this existential crisis is through adopting the principle of conscious consumption: an increased awareness of the impact of our purchases. Many of us have already started to do this. Buying locally produced organic food, for example. However, we need to consider our impact beyond the well-publicized products (e.g. food) to the less publicized products (e.g. financial investments).

The path to a low carbon economy will not be an easy one - Rome wasn't built in a day. By embracing conscious consumption, we can genuinely affect how products are conceived and consumed. Just for a second, imagine a society where every member fully values the impact of product consumption as intensely as it values its price. Companies respond accordingly by competing on both minimizing impact and maximizing customer value. Analysts scrutinize both material sustainability metrics and financial performance. This is the first step towards creating sustainable capitalism in a finite environment.

However, for the conscious consumption principle to be successfully adopted by the mainstream, we need to eliminate personal shaming. Those of us yet to consider the impacts of purchases should not be ridiculed. Every journey starts with a first step, and oversights (or mistakes) of the past need to be put to one side. Here's the hot tip - no one is perfect. We want to be inspired and led by example.

We're all on the same resource-constrained planet making decisions that ultimately will affect every member of society. Anyone arguing otherwise is looking at too short a time-horizon. If we make this the starting point, then our frame of reference shifts from criticizing mistakes of the past to helping shape the direction of the future. There is a fine line to draw between action through inspiration and action through shaming, but it's crucial that we focus on the former and avoid the latter. This will allow impact to evolve to be the foundation, not the afterthought, of decisions.

Those of us who know what we need to work towards, must take that first step: consume consciously. We need to then help others recognize that individual product purchases do have an impact, and it's not immaterial. Every journey starts with a first step. Take that step, consume consciously, and inspire others to do the same.

Jay Lipman is a reformed Wall Streeter, an advocate for ethical investing and Co-Founder of Ethic. Find out more at WeAreEthic.com