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Conscious Consumers

Oct 14, 2009

By Annette Thurston, VIA Architecture
I have always been an advocate for “Going Green” in theory. It seems like the right thing to do and I want to save the planet, but the whole idea just overwhelms me every time I think about it.  Doubts and questions start filling my head like “is my recycling really helping?  Everything I buy comes in plastic, it’s impossible to avoid.  I don’t want to walk that far to the store; I need my car to haul all of my grocery bags. I want to relax and watch TV at the end of the day and Facebook with my friends (sometimes I’ll waste a whole Sunday just catching up on shows and watching movies).  I love food and I love shopping. It’s too expensive to buy organic”…and on and on it goes.

Why should I sacrifice all of the things that I love?  I’m a person who likes her purchases cheap, I like them quick and I don’t care how they get here. Honestly, ‘going green’ just sounds like too much of a hassle.  So I’ve just been doing the bare minimum that most people do which is recycle plastic, tin and paper and hope that someone puts it to good use. I really have no idea where that stuff goes when I throw it in the bin every week.  Then I heard about this movie No Impact Man and I took my friend Adam to go see it with me.

The premise of the movie is that Colin Beavan, his wife and their 2 year old daughter would lower their carbon footprint to 0 over the course of 12 months in New York City. They did really extreme things like shut off their electricity for 6 months and only travel by foot or bike and only buy locally produced food and milk. They actually gave away their TV — just gave it away! But the point of them doing all of that was to see what they could live without.

As Adam and I were walking to our cars and talking about the movie, we started thinking about all the waste we produce in our daily lives and what we are really getting out of it. The combination of being inspired by this movie and the fact that we are fairly competitive people, led us to challenge ourselves to a year of reducing our impact.  I’m not going to lie, we are pretty high maintenance and it’s not going to be easy.  But even people such as us need a place to start.  So taking our cue from Colin Beavan, we divided the next 12 months into three phases and came up with a list of things that we know are wasteful and want to try to live without.  

For Phase 1 we have vowed to: give up all things plastic ie plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic tubs, plastic utensils, any food that is packaged in plastic etc., give up aluminum, reduce our TV time and laptop time to 2 hours a day each to conserve energy, purchase only as many items as we can carry, and dine out a maximum of 3 times a week and that INCLUDES going out for coffee.

The minute I posted this list on my Facebook page, there was an immediate attack on our project. Some people laughed, some people mocked me by saying ‘You?!  Ha! Good luck!’ Some people jumped to the obvious, ‘what about yogurt containers, shampoo/conditioner bottles, ball point pens, sandwich bags, your cell phone? How will you live without those?” People are automatically discouraged by the thought of giving up these things they’ve grown to be so dependent on. And actually, so are we. Good thing we like a challenge. We are just learning as we go and we know it will take a lot of research and questions, a lot of frustrations and a lot of cravings as we adjust to our new lifestyles. But we vow not to give up until we have exhausted all other options that are available to us. 

The main thing we hope to get out of this project is that we want to become more aware of where our products come from, where they go when we discard them, and what the actual cost is to our health and the environment by purchasing them.  We can do only what is within our power and economic limitations.  We are striving to be Conscious Consumers and we are determined to reduce as much waste as is humanly possible for us while still living satisfying, fulfilling and happy lives.  And hopefully we will make some small difference to our planet.

We will check back with an update once we are through Phase 1 and introduce Phase 2 of our project.


  1. I wish I had seen the movie too. I went to make lunch after I read your post and my soup became quite the eye opener. The packaging for this one little soup consisted of 3 separate flavor packages (wrapped in plastic or foil), a plastic bowl wrapped in plastic and a cardboard envelope to make it all look pretty. Hope it’s prettier then the garbage dump I just contributed to…blush blush. I think I will make my lunch tomorrow.

  2. Love, love this post! I think that Annette is going to create a competition between our two offices (Seattle and Vancouver) for which office can reduce their impact on the world the most. Should be fun! Looking forward to the next update.