A beginner’s guide to ethical and sustainable shopping
Ethical and sustainable shopping is an essential part of living a sustainable lifestyle. By choosing products and services which are as sustainable as possible, we are increasing demand for them and reducing the demand for unethical items at the same time.
However, ethical and sustainable shopping can feel overwhelming if you’re just getting into a sustainable lifestyle. In this article, we’ll share some of the most important considerations and factors to pay attention to.
Online or in-store?
First, let’s discuss the option of whether to shop online or in-store. During the last year, many of us got used to shopping mostly online, so what do we do once physical shops reopen (or perhaps they’ve already reopened in your area)?
As with anything, what will be more eco-friendly depends on your circumstance and the products you’re buying. In general, physical stores consume more electricity and other resources than online shop warehouses do.
You can also reduce your impact if you don’t have to drive to a store and have the product delivered instead, by a delivery person with a route calculated to maximise efficiency (which usually reduces the environmental impact).
Shopping online, you also have the benefit of being able to research the ethical and environmental standards something was made under, including third-party websites, which would be much more difficult to do in a physical store.
Items you buy online are often shipped across half the world to get to you. Of course, the same can also be true for what you could buy in-store, so see what your options are first.
Shopping online is, generally, the more sustainable option – but there are certainly exceptions. If you live within walking distance of a store, you can reduce your footprint compared to having their products shipped directly to you. Some local shops also only operate offline and, when the alternative is buying a product shipped from overseas, in-store shopping is certainly the better option.
Here’s one of the best ways to shop more sustainably – do it less. While ethical shopping can help us get what we need when we need it, the truth is that many of us simply buy things that we don’t need or that don’t bring us any joy.
These items then end up taking up space in our home, only to be thrown away barely used. If you want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, think carefully about the purchases you’re making – and eliminate unnecessary ones.
Shop to reduce your carbon footprint
We’ve already touched upon one implication for carbon footprint – the impact of shipment or travel – but what about any others?
In general, animal-based products have a significantly higher footprint than plant-based alternatives. This is true not just for food, but also for fashion. That is because it’s overall much more efficient to create what we need from plants, then feed those plants to animals and create the items or foods from them. Additionally, some animals including cows and sheep produce methane – a greenhouse gas which is 84 times more potent than CO2 in the short term.
It’s always good to only buy what you need – but especially so when it comes to food. That’s because food waste can be another substantial source of methane. When we throw away uneaten food rather than composting it, it is sent to a landfill, where it lacks the access to oxygen it needs to break down efficiently. Instead, it sits around in a landfill without decomposing and produces methane.
Shopping local, which we’ve already mentioned before, has another overarching benefit. Generally speaking, western countries use significantly more renewable energy than developing countries. If you buy something made locally, the carbon footprint will also likely be reduced because of the use of a higher share of green energy.
Shop to reduce packaging
Excess packaging, especially plastic, has been another frequently discussed environmental issue in recent years – how do you shop with this in mind?
When going into a store to shop, always make sure you’re taking a cloth bag with you, so that you don’t have to buy a single-use bag. Even paper bags add to waste being thrown away from our homes. If you’re able to bring other reusable packaging, such as reusable produce bags or soy wax wraps, that’s another step towards more ethical shopping and a more sustainable lifestyle.
Sometimes, packaging can’t be avoided – and in those cases, it’s important to look for more sustainable packaging options. Always choose cardboard, glass or metal over single-use plastic.
Lastly, we can’t forget about the waste being produced in the background – just because we don’t see the waste our shopping creates doesn’t mean it isn’t produced! This is another point where it pays off to shop locally – because products shipped from far away usually use a lot of packaging in the process.
Buy recycled or pre-loved
Lastly, one of the best ways to ensure what you’re buying is ethical and sustainable is to buy recycled or pre-loved alternatives. This way, no new materials have to be created and you’re preventing used items from ending up in a landfill.
Almost anything can now be bought pre-loved: from clothing to electronics. With how quick many of us are to throw away our possessions, many of the pre-loved items are actually barely used!
Recycling works better for some materials than others, but it’s still something we should be focusing on. Metals and glass in particular can be recycled indefinitely, as they don’t lose quality through the process. All that is needed to produce items made from recycled materials are resources such as energy or water needed to re-form the materials into a new item.
Whether you’re shopping pre-loved or recycled, you’re taking one of the most important steps towards sustainable and ethical shopping.