Here’s What’s Better Than Buying Green

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Climate change is going to affect us for the rest of our lives — that's just the science. Lots of the solutions we'll need to find will be structural, like moving toward renewable energies and forcing industry to change harmful practices. Individual actions can help, including moving the needle on public pressure for the big stuff. We may be confusing personal purchasing power for activism in some very real ways, though.

Researchers at the University of Arizona have just released a study looking into the extent to which we're trying to buy our way out of environmental responsibility. In other words, we still love to buy stuff, but it's still wasteful materialism if we buy too many green products. Not only that, but buying green doesn't tamp down the panic we start to feel when we have too much stuff in our lives — only buying less does that.

What that means, ultimately, is that it can actually be better to buy "regular" things in moderation than to overconsume "green" products. What's key is cultivating some awareness in your own life as you shop. Other studies have shown that practicing mindfulness and gratitude while evaluating your shopping needs works best; even zero-waste advocates encourage people to buy less rather than stocking up on "green" waste.

"If you have a lot of stuff, you have a lot on your mind," said lead author Sabrina Helm. "Maybe you have a lot of debt because you bought all that stuff, and now you have to manage all that stuff. It requires maintenance and being organized. It's not like you buy it and you're done with it. There's a lot of burdens of ownership, and if you relieve yourself of that burden of ownership, most people report feeling a lot better and freer."