Building a Conscious Home: How to be a Responsible Consumer

April 11, 2011

Planet Home by Jeffrey Hollender

By Jeffrey Hollender,

We live in a world in which building a conscious home may seem like an improbable and impossible task. Every day, there is news about a different chemical affecting our health and our children’s health, or life-threatening pollution in places across the planet. We also see large corporations and interest groups put their greedy appetites to work against our best societal interests.

But, the reality is that we can make change. With a lot of will and a little wisdom, we can make our homes, our communities and our greater planet, a healthy place for those we care most about, and those we barely know, for generations to come.

I challenge you, during this month when we celebrate Earth Day, to make five commitments. In doing so, you will start building a healthier home for yourself and your family and climb the ladder to becoming a more responsible consumer.

1. Don’t Confuse Less Bad With Good
Ninety-five percent of what we think of as good is merely less bad. Making a commitment to go for the “good” in a sea of “less bad” can be challenging. To start, consider where a product comes from, how it was collected, processed, packaged and shipped and by whom – were ethical practices followed along the product’s journey? Care2, the Organic Consumers Association, and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families are great resources to get you started on your quest for knowledge.

2. Vote With Your Dollars
Too many of us increasingly feel that we have little control over the world around us. But, we have an unbelievable power as consumers: We can vote with our dollars. We can choose which companies to support through the power of the purchase. Josh Dorfman’s new website Good Guide is an excellent place to learn about the best products to “vote” for. Take this philosophy one step further by making change in your own community. Never was the adage “think global, act local” more appropriate as it is today: We see cities and town across America building local food systems, developing sustainable economies, and fighting corporate interests.

3. Keep it Clean
The kitchen is the heart of the home, the place where all the systems involved in running a home collide. Create a conscious kitchen with energy-efficient appliances and cookware made from eco-friendly materials. Keep it well-ventilated and use natural cleaners. You may not realize it, but the most important surface to clean in any kitchen is your own two hands. That said, not all hand soap is created equal: avoid soaps that contain unnecessary and dangerous anti-bacterial chemicals, including triclosan, which according to the AMA, may encourage bacterial resistance to antibiotics. The fewer ingredients, the better; the questionable always lurks in the additives. Read the labels and choose wisely.

4. Eat Your Ethics
Eating consciously means thinking about the origins and implications of what you eat. Critics complain about the cost of organic food, but the true expense of conventional, non-organic foods is the ecological toll they take – soil erosion, the destruction of local farms, unemployment, and health and safety crises. Large commercial farms sell products more cheaply by externalizing costs onto society and the environment. Say no to an industrialized agricultural system full of factory-farmed food. Instead, say yes to local, organic and sustainably-grown food products like local bulk grain, grass-fed meat and milk, artisanal cheeses and butter, pastured eggs, sustainably-caught seafood and fair trade coffee and tea. Resources for finding conscious food include Community Supported Agriculture Center , Local Harvest, Slow Food USA, Sustainable Table, and the USDA’s site for Farmers’ Markets and Local Food Marketing.

5. Demand Transparency
We’re seeing more people take to social media to demand transparency from brands and organizations. Tweets are capable of fostering revolutions as we’ve seen from examples in Egypt and Libya. Likewise, consumers can harness the power of social media to ask the questions that need asking. We know that brands are listening to online conversations. Let’s make that conversation about being responsible. Foodista recently reported on strange bedfellows among large corporations and sustainable brands. Little to no information is generally available regarding these acquisitions. We as consumers can start asking parent companies how responsible they are vis-à-vis their more sustainable sub-brands. We can demand to know whether a socially-conscious brand has remained so post-acquisition. The tools are there; we need to use them.

I hope you will make these five commitments today. Your own “planet home” and the larger planet home will thank you. I also invite you to take a peek at my new book, Planet Home (co-authored with Alexandra Zissu), which covers these topics (and more) in-depth. And, of course, you can find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Jeffrey Hollender

About Jeffrey Hollender
Jeffrey Hollender is co-founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, which he built into a leading brand known for its authenticity, transparency, and progressive business practices. For more than 25 years, he has helped millions of Americans make green and ethical product choices, beginning with his bestselling book, How to Make the World a Better Place, a Beginner’s Guide. He went on to author five additional books, including The Responsibility Revolution and Planet Home. He is a board member of Greenpeace US and Verite and also co-founder of the American Sustainable Business Council. Please visit to learn more and visit Jeffrey’s blog.



Lauren's picture

Great post! I'd like to chime in on #4 above: another important reason for ethical eaters to avoid products from factory farmed animals is because of the widespread animal abuse on those farms. Consumers who purchase meat, eggs, and dairy products from small, local farms have the opportunity to confirm for themselves that the animals were raised responsibly, which results in healthier, higher quality food.