How can shopping be sustainable? I will discuss 14 subdivisions in this article, but in the end, they all belong to one of three things: People, Profit, Planet.
In 1987 the Brundtland Commission investigated the concept of sustainability. The focus of their definition was firmly on the long term. Sustainability is the most effective and beneficial system for all species and ecosystems, serving the needs of today without compromising those of tomorrow.
In several of our articles, we emphasize the importance of ourselves as consumers in trying to bring about a change in the world. But that does not exempt companies from providing their share, and in my opinion, that share could be larger.
We can only influence those companies by pulling our wallets or refusing to do that. We call it “Voting with our feet” in the Netherlands. Walk away from what we don’t want.
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Table of contents
- 1 How can shopping be sustainable?
- 2 What is sustainable shopping?
- 2.1 Invest in quality
- 2.2 Rent if available
- 2.3 Environment-friendly materials
- 2.4 Take a break from consuming
- 2.5 Shop secondhand or thrifting
- 2.6 Reduce water and energy consumption
- 2.7 Waste less food
- 2.8 Choose cruelty-free products
- 2.9 Look for certifications
- 2.10 Purchase in-season
- 2.11 Consider the local community and ethical behavior
- 2.12 Workers should receive a fair wage
- 2.13 Brands that do good deserve our support
- 2.14 Donate to NGO’s and watchdog organizations
- 3 Online shopping or mall shopping?
- 4 Do we really need the on-demand economy?
- 5 How sustainable is our shopping?
How can shopping be sustainable?
REFUSE to buy cheap unsustainable stuff, REDUCE your shopping spree, REUSE the stuff you already have and, when possible, RECYCLE.
What is sustainable shopping?
Invest in quality
Sometimes Tom and I fall into the trap that cheap can have quality. That is rarely the case. This is not to say that expensive by definition has quality.
Still, it pays to go for quality instead of price.
Rent if available
Not only houses and cars can be rented or leased! If at any point a purchase is too big to afford, it may be worth looking for rental options.
A loose selection of what can already be rented at the moment: tools, friendship, crockery and furniture for a party, costumes.
It’s better not to use polyester, acrylic, viscose rayon, conventional cotton, or tanned leather. The plastics for the usual reason that they are the reason for the plastic problem in the world.
Conventional cotton requires an immense amount of water, gigantic quantities of pesticides (25% of those used worldwide), artificial fertilizer, lots of energy, and many types of toxic chemicals for processing. Conventional cotton also contributes to soil depletion. Often in areas that already have to deal with a water shortage.
The leather tanning industry has a huge effect on workers’ health. Most workers in Bangladesh do not live past the age of 50. In addition, child labor is not shunned.
Take a break from consuming
A friend’s daughter clears out her wardrobe once a year. She regularly comes across things that she has never worn before. Sometimes the price tag is still attached to it.
But instead of deciding to wear those clothes after all, she gets rid of them because they are no longer according to the latest fashion.
Someone once gave me a good tip that would also be a solution for her: Wait 3 days before you actually make your purchase. You may conclude that you don’t need it.
Shop secondhand or thrifting
Secondhand shopping (the shop owner buys used goods and sells them) and thrifting (items have been donated to charity) are representatives of the circular economy. It saves on the use of raw materials, labor, and energy.
Some say thrift shopping is not fair, because the buyers are not only poor people but people from all areas of society who pinch the reasonably priced goods before the nose of the needy ones.
Reduce water and energy consumption
Refuse to buy things that you know will use a lot of unnecessary water or energy. Such as conventional cotton or avocados that are grown in the driest areas.
Waste less food
A third of food production is wasted worldwide. In the US it is even 50%. Because perishables got stuck in a container boat, which didn’t arrive on time. Because consumers are critical of the appearance of products. Or because the harvests fail.
And also because food is prepared carelessly. Food decays because the tools used for preparation are not clean enough. People prepare far, far too much food, and then throw away half or more.
Choose cruelty-free products
Make-up products that are tested on animals. Laboratory animals requiring medical treatment. In short, cruelty-free means no exploitation of animals that cannot stand up for their own rights.
Look for certifications
Pay close attention to which certification is mentioned. Most are in good faith, but unfortunately, there are also fake certifications. Now that more consumers are interested in sustainable shopping, there are also people and companies who pretend to be ecologically sound by greenwashing.
Consider organic fruit and vegetables whenever possible. Purchasing fruit and vegetables from the season can be quite easy if you frequent organic farmers’ markets and local ecological stores.
Consider the local community and ethical behavior
Container transport has brought the globalization of products. This is often cheaper than truck transport. However, Covid has also shown how vulnerable this type of transport can be.
For example, by ports that are closed due to a lockdown. The scaling-up is also problematic, making a mishandled container ship an obstacle and keeping a transit route locked for weeks.
Local shops and producers offer a good alternative, given they treat their workers right.
Workers should receive a fair wage
Child labor and slave labor still exist on our planet. Children have the right to education and workers have the right to their freedom and fair payment for their efforts as well as social security.
Brands that do good deserve our support
We can show our support not only by buying the products of sustainable brands but also by writing testimonials or reviews so they get more exposure. Everyone likes to get a compliment at times.
Donate to NGO’s and watchdog organizations
Support sustainable organizations with a donation. This does not always have to be a monetary donation. Donating time by volunteering certainly counts.
Online shopping or mall shopping?
Almost half of the online purchases are returned! I was shocked to discover that most articles that are returned to the webshops get destroyed. The idea behind this is that it costs more to repackage and distribute them than throwing them in the bin.
Nevertheless, online shopping is more sustainable than driving to the mall! Especially because impulse purchases take place more often in the mall than online. But only if certain online shopping conditions are met:
- As few returns as possible;
- Cardboard and paper packaging;
- Combination of purchases;
- No stress for packers and carriers;
- The shortest possible transport route.
Most malls can not be reached by public transport, only by car. Most online carriers combine deliveries according to a sophisticated route.
Do we really need the on-demand economy?
The reason for this article was a newspaper report that there are various companies that guarantee 10-minute deliveries. The only sustainable thing I can find about these types of companies is the bikes used for the delivery.
Have we really become such bad planners or so impatient consumers that we want things within 10 minutes?
Meal suppliers usually use mopeds, because a meal has to stay warm. The result is fuel consumption, noise pollution, and plastic waste. Not to mention the quality of the food – mostly fast food such as pizza.
How sustainable is our shopping?
It is clear that I do not appreciate some developments in our shopping culture. I don’t think we need to adjust that much to shop sustainably.
If we don’t drive to the store for every impulse, plan well, and handle stuff mindfully, we’re doing it right.
What is your way to shop sustainably? Tell us in the comment box below.