Buying less helps the environment and improves consumers' happiness

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Researchers suggest buying green doesn’t come with as many benefits as cutting down on buying all together

As major corporations continue their eco-friendly initiatives, many consumers are prompted to do their part to purchase things that are better for the environment. 

However, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Arizona found that buying green isn’t necessarily the best bet for consumers. Instead, they say that buying less overall proved to be better for both the environment and consumers’ happiness. 

“We thought it might satisfy people that they participated in being more environmentally conscious through green buying patterns, but it doesn’t seem to be that way,” said researcher Sabrina Helm. “Reduced consumption has effects on increased well-being and decreased psychological distress, but we don’t see that with green consumption.” 

Purchasing less leads to less stress

The researchers had nearly 1,000 participants complete online surveys gauging their shopping habits and how it affected them personally. Each participant answered questions about their eco-friendly habits, their life satisfaction, their stress levels, and their tendency to lean towards materialism. 

Participants who opted to keep up their regular buying habits but swapped traditional products for more environmentally friendly ones were doing some good for the environment. However, the researchers found that the amount of products these consumers bought did nothing for their overall happiness and well-being. 

Helm and her colleagues learned that only those who were able to limit their buying habits to necessary items, and fix older products instead of buying new ones, were able to benefit the environment and become happier. 

“If you have a lot of stuff, you have a lot on your mind,” said Helm. “Maybe you have a lot of debt because you bought all that stuff, and 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.” 

The study also determined that the eco-friendly market has opened up another avenue for serial consumers to get their shopping fix. For those who were focused on material things, buying green allowed them to keep acquiring things while framing it in a better way. These consumers justify their spending by explaining that it’s helping the environment. 

“If you are able to buy environmentally friendly products, you can still live your materialist values,” Helm explained. “You’re acquiring new things, and that fits into our mainstream consumption pattern in our consumer culture, whereas reduced consumption is more novel and probably more important from a sustainability perspective.” 

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