How to Go Green Without Going Overboard

Is there a catch-22 of sustainable shopping? Our resident psychiatrist weighs in.

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Q: I buy only green products these days, including things I didn’t even know I needed. While I like being environmentally conscious, I worry I’m overdoing it and contributing to the waste problem.

It feels good to go green. For real: Research shows that using eco-friendly products creates a warm glow known as the green-consumption effect—a heightened sense of enjoyment and a deeper feeling of connection to others. Buying items that show you care about the planet signals to others your virtue and values. Capitalizing on eco-conscious consumers’ eagerness to do good, feel good, and look good means marketers are working overtime to convince us to buy green products. But if you already own three pairs of yoga pants, buying that fair-trade, recycled-plastic-bottle fourth pair isn’t really helping the environment.

Take out the word green from green products—and you are still left with…products. “Green materialism” (coined by researcher Sabrina Helm at the University of Arizona) is still materialism. Advertisers pressure us to acquire more eco-friendly items, but, from a sustainability perspective, reducing consumption is key. So, a better strategy is repairing (not replacing) older items, getting only what you need, and avoiding impulse buys. Plus, contrary to what most ads tell us, research shows that buying less makes us happier and more satisfied with our lives. Bottom line: Acquiring less really is more—and it’s good for your wallet, the world, and all of our well-being.

Dr. Samantha Boardman is a clinical instructor in psychiatry and an assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York and the founder of positiveprescription.com.

This article originally appeared in the April 2020 issue of Marie Claire.

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