6 ways to be a more conscientious consumer

You can protect the planet with purchasing power and support a more sustainable future while reducing your own environmental impact.

By Garage Staff — June 29, 2020

As the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to unfold, consumers are paying close attention to how and where they spend their money. Beyond shopping for health and wellness and stocking up on essentials, many are equipping themselves for more working, learning, and entertainment at home — consumer technology purchases have increased by 23%, jigsaw puzzle sales are up 370%, and there’s been a run on baking and gardening supplies. 

At the same time, there’s a growing awareness of how consumers’ choices impact not only their own lives, but the world around them. In a recent study by the global management consulting firm Kearney, about half of the people surveyed said the pandemic has made them more concerned about the environment and more likely to buy environmentally friendly products.

But even the most conscientious consumers can find it difficult to make choices that live up to their commitment.

Al Boardman

A surge in online shopping due to the global pandemic means that packaging waste is sure to increase, making it more important than ever to buy from brands that use recyclable shipping materials.

“Every purchasing decision is an opportunity to make an impact,” says Ellen Jackowski, HP’s chief sustainability and social impact officer. “But for shoppers, it can be a challenge to distinguish between companies that are taking authentic action and those who are marketing sustainability as simply the latest trend.”

So how can you be sure you’re making a responsible choice when you’re choosing what to buy? Here are a few ways to get started. 

Do your homework

Finding brands that are dedicated to sustainability requires more than reading labels — you may have to do some digging. Jackowski suggests looking for companies using or transitioning to 100% renewable energy, implementing effective energy and water-saving practices, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and waste. And seek out companies that demonstrate a larger commitment by partnering with independent organizations like the World Wildlife Fund or NextWave Plastics on cross-industry sustainability initiatives. 

Go beyond a company’s website and social media to find specific information about its goals and progress toward achieving them. One place to look is a company’s annual sustainability report — HP released its 2019 Sustainable Impact Report last week. Look for concrete information about how a company sources raw materials, whether it works directly with small farmers or people in local communities where it operates, and how it’s making its operations as efficient as possible. “Look at how the company manages its products before, during, and after the sale,” says Jackowski. “A responsible brand will account for the entire lifecycle of its products.”

Check for credentials 

You’ve likely encountered products marketed as “natural” or “green” or “sustainable” — but these buzzwords don’t really tell you much. For clarity, look for eco-label certifications, which come from credible, independent organizations to identify products and brands that are taking meaningful steps to be more sustainable.

Next time you’re shopping for groceries, check for labels like Rain Forest Alliance, Fair Trade, USDA Organic, and the gold star standard: Demeter Biodynamic. For non-food products, keep an eye out for labels including TRUE Zero Waste, FSC Certified (Forest Stewardship Council) (most of HP’s printer paper is FSC certified), B Corp, ENERGY STAR, EPEAT, Blue Angel, LEED, and Cradle to Cradle. Check the Eco Label Index directory for credible certifications across 25 industries.

Judge a product by its packaging

The U.S. alone produces 80 million tons of packaging waste per year, but this year, a surge in online shopping due to the global pandemic caused an increase in shipped products. 


“Every purchasing decision is an opportunity to have an impact.”

—Ellen Jackowski, HP’s chief sustainability and social impact officer

Some companies are exploring innovative approaches to packaging waste. HP announced it would eliminate 75% of single-use plastic from product packaging by 2025, reducing the use of plastic foam packing material in favor of molded fiber from recycled and sustainable sources. As an alternative to plastic polybags used in retail, eco-minded fashion designer Heron Preston recently partnered with HP to create compostable pouches made from FSC- and PEFC-certified wood pulp and printed on HP Indigo digital presses

Founded in 2010, the Israeli company TIPA produces fully compostable bio-plastic packaging for food and fashion brands, including wrappers, bags, and resealable pouches for companies including the UK supermarket chain Waitrose & Partners and fashion icon Stella McCartney. To replace plastic rings that pollute oceans and harm birds and sea life, Danish beer behemoth Carlsberg is rolling out Snap Packs — four-packs and six-packs of cans held together with a recyclable glue instead of plastic rings.

Buy up ocean plastic

Each year, over 17.6 billion pounds of plastic waste ends up in the ocean. Coastal communities around the world are spending tens of millions of dollars a year to clean up marine plastic pollution that releases toxins into the food chain, causes flooding and reduces local revenue from tourism. 

To keep plastic out of the ocean, more companies are repurposing used plastic to create new products. For example, Norton Point creates sunglasses from ocean plastic and works with The Plastic Bank to pay locals a living wage for collecting it. In 2020, HP launched the world’s most sustainable PC portfolio, including the world’s first PC notebook ,display, mobile workstation, and enterprise Chromebook made using ocean-bound plastics. To date, HP has sourced more than 1.7 million pounds of ocean-bound plastic for use in new products.  

Stay in the loop

The idea of manufacturing in a closed-loop system is essentially to create new things from old things, so there is no waste. For example, Adidas is developing its FUTURECRAFT.LOOP running shoes with reuse in mind. The shoes are constructed from a single type of material and assembled without glue. When consumers are ready to get rid of a pair they’ll return them to Adidas to be washed, ground into pellets, and melted to create raw materials for new shoes.

Tackling the Plastic Packaging Problem | Sustainable Impact | HP

HP has committed to eliminating 75% of single-use plastic packaging by 2025, compared to 2018.

HP follows a similar approach — over 80% of HP ink cartridges, 100% of HP LaserJet toner cartridges, and new products like the HP Tango Terra Printer include recycled plastic from a closed-loop system. Printer ink subscriptions like HP Instant Ink deliver recyclable cartridges when you’re running low on ink — along with return envelopes that make it easy to send in your old cartridges to be recycled into new products. 

To recover and reuse material from the 250 billion beverage cups produced globally each year, Starbucks and McDonalds teamed up to found the NextGen Consortium, partnering with other global brands to develop a reusable material that works for hot and cold beverages, as well as a system for recovering used cups to create new ones.

Pay attention to the end

As seaweed-based materials startup Loliware asks about the plastic straw: “If something is only going to be used once, why is it engineered to last for centuries?” Before you buy something, think about the lifetime of that product and what will happen once you’re done with it. Jackowski says consumers should check the brand’s website to find options for repairs, upgrades, and recycling that will help keep the used product and its parts in circulation and out of landfills and waterways.

“Making simple, informed choices about what to buy can help conserve our planet’s finite resources and have substantial impacts on the health and well-being of people and entire communities,” Jackowski says. 


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