Emily and Adam | Portland, ME Engagement Session | Ethical Alternatives

These two reached out to me a single day after I published my updates "About Me" including a new Green Certification and bold values. I've always had those values, they weren't new, but being outspoken about them sure was. See, we're in the middle of a "good vibes only" culture, where we only like to post happy Pinterest quotes and aspire to live like the Instagram influencers who have perfect feeds. To me, business isn't about having a perfect feed or having a life that is always happy and annoyingly peppy. No, business is about making a positive impact in the community whenever possible, and creating innovative ways to make new positive impacts even when that means stepping into uncharted territory. Also, to me, my business is a way through which consumers can make great impacts with their money.

As a conscious consumer myself, I know the struggle of looking for businesses whose values line up with mine. Money changes things, and the way I spend mine says a lot about what I believe in and stand for. As a business owner, all of my clients are consumers in the photography business, so why shouldn't I create the kind of business that I, myself would want to work with? It took some time to research other photographers with green certifications, to source the right materials and to refine my products list so that the bad stuff was eliminated as much as possible. It also took a lot of time to simply look at my practices and products and to reflect on how to give clients what they want while sticking with my values.

Finally, it happened! The funny thing is, in photography, it's really hard to be green! For the most part, my business is limited to my life plus some equipment, a studio space, and the print goods that I create. Luckily, I already lived sustainably so making some of those product switches were relatively minor.

Emily and Adam live sustainably just like I do. They are conscious consumers. What are these terms I'm throwing around? Well, living sustainably means living a life that values natural resources and avoids overly exploiting them. It means being green; it means using alternatives to daily necessities that reduce waste and a demand for plastics, it means a whole lot of the kinds of things that some may call "hippy."

While we're here, let me just say, being a hippy is NOT something to be ashamed of, no matter where on the spectrum you may fall. To all of those who call others hippy as a derogatory insult, you're not on the winning side of history.

Back to the point: now that I've answered what living sustainably is, I'll answer what a conscious consumer is. First, we're all consumers because we all buy things. Most of us are not conscious consumers while some are. The difference is simple a level of consciousness! There really is no intimate consciousness, those who are conscious consumers are constantly learning new things, changing their habits, and adapting to the world around them. There is no good and bad, black or white, it is all a spectrum. I am a conscious consumer and the easiest way I can explain my habits is that I would rather spend more money on a version of a product that is reusable, that is made of recycled materials, that is recyclable itself, or that I know was created in a sustainable and ethical way. I actively avoid buying things that I know are harmful (glitter anything, Styrofoam anything, etc.) and look instead for alternatives - companies like me! The downside to being a conscious consumer is that you often end up paying a little more, and your choices are severely limited. All of the Victoria's Secret lovers out there - sorry, they aren't ethical or sustainable. What about the cheap real hair extensions scored on Amazon? Yeah, that hair may have been stolen right off of the head of a woman walking along the street.

Emily and Adam are conscious consumers. When I asked a little bit about their journey (honestly, I was hoping they'd teach me a thing or two!) Emily seemed a little nervous and led with a disclaimer "we've just started being more conscious and changing our habits."

G I R L, M E T O O!

No matter how long we've been conscious, we're all still just at the beginning, still learning, still evolving. There's no shame in anyone's game so long as they're open to learning and adapting.

One of the easiest ways to start is exactly what Emily and Adam did - at the supermarket. Buy reusable shopping bags and reusable produce bags. Those handy little plastic bags next to the apples? Yeah, you don't need those. Meat as a part of every meal? Yeah, you don't need that either. The American meat, starch and one veggie motto is nothing more than a myth. Sure, not everyone is ready to be a vegetarian, but even making one day a week meatless will have a BIG impact on the environment regarding CO2 and water. Do you love pistachios? Listen to this and re-consider whether they're really all that great. I used to love them, I still have a bulk bag from BJ's in my pantry - but you won't find me eating those puppies anymore.

We are embedded in a life of harmful products and actions, it would be impossible to change in one day, even a month! Instead, committing to change over time, to dedicate yourself to learning and listening and asking questions, that is what it means to be a conscious consumer.

Lets talk jewelry. We all know what blood diamonds are, but did you know that children all over the world are exploited to mine other things like metals, mica, and gemstones? Just because your ring doesn't have a blood diamond doesn't mean that it's free of the blood and sweat of a child.

Emily and Adam were looking for engagement rings, stumbled upon Vrai and Oro and learned that their rings were conflict free with transparent pricing, and that their diamonds were man made in places that pay LIVING WAGES and are CARBON NEUTRAL. After learning that and looking at jewelry elsewhere, a lightbulb moment happened and she realized that she has a responsibility to spend her money for good and to keep it from institutions that support harmful, unethical, and unsustainable practices. This is what it means to be a conscious consumer: being conscious of the bigger impact and forcing change (albeit slowly) using the power of consumer demand. The bigger Vrai and Oro and other similar companies get, the smaller harmful companies become because their portion of the market share is giving up on them. Be a part of that move!