Good Stuff? - A Consumption Manifesto: The Top Ten Principles of Good Consumption

Consumption is one of life's great pleasures. Buying things we crave, traveling to beautiful places, eating delectable food: icing on the cake of life. But too often the effects of our blissful consumption make for a sad story. Giant cars exhaling dangerous exhaust, hog farms pumping out noxious pollutants, toxic trash heaps nudging into poor neighborhoods—none of this if there weren't something to sell.

But there's no need to swap pleasure for guilt. With thoughtfulness and commitment, consumption can be a force for good. Too long have we consumers been a blushing bride overwhelmed by business suitors. It's time for the bride to assert herself. We've got the dowry; we have the purchasing power. We can require our suitors to comply with our vision of environmental stewardship—or we can close the door behind them on their way out. Through buying what we need, produced the way we want, we can create the world we'd like to live in.

To that end and for the future, a Consumption Manifesto:

Principle One. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. This brilliant triad says it all. Reduce: Avoid buying what you don't need—and when you do get that dishwasher/lawnmower/toilet, spend the money up front for an efficient model. Re-use: Buy used stuff, and wring the last drop of usefulness out of most everything you own. Recycle: Do it, but know that it's the last and least effective leg of the triad. (Ultimately, recycling simply results in the manufacture of more things.)

Principle Two. Stay close to home. Work close to home to shorten your commute; eat food grown nearby; patronize local businesses; join local organizations. All of these will improve the look, shape, smell, and feel of your community.

Principle Three. Internal combustion engines are polluting, and their use should be minimized. Period.

Principle Four. Watch what you eat. Whenever possible, avoid food grown with pesticides, in feedlots, or by agribusiness. It's an easy way to use your dollars to vote against the spread of toxins in our bodies, land, and water.

Principle Five. Private industries have very little incentive to improve their environmental practices. Our consumption choices must encourage and support good behavior; our political choices must support government regulation.

Principle Six. Support thoughtful innovations in manufacturing and production. Hint: Drilling for oil is no longer an innovation.

Principle Seven. Prioritize. Think hardest when buying large objects; don't drive yourself mad fretting over the small ones. It's easy to be distracted by the paper bag puzzle, but an energy-sucking refrigerator is much more worthy of your attention. (Small electronics are an exception.)

Principle Eight. Vote. Political engagement enables the spread of environmentally conscious policies. Without public action, thoughtful individuals are swimming upstream.

Principle Nine. Don't feel guilty. It only makes you sad.

Principle Ten. Enjoy what you have—the things that are yours alone, and the things that belong to none of us. Both are nice, but the latter are precious. Those things that we cannot manufacture and should never own—water, air, birds, trees—are the foundation of life's pleasures. Without them, we're nothing. With us, there may be nothing left. It's our choice.

—Umbra Fisk, Grist Magazine

For more advice on wise consumption, visit Grist Magazine online at http://www.gristmagazine.com/ask/.