Sustainable shopping is about making informed choices that focus on reducing environmental impact. It’s on the rise in the UK and Europe, and for good reason. The benefits of shopping sustainably range from preventing pollution to living healthier lives. Products which are better for the planet tend to be good for us too.
Still, knowing how to shop sustainably can be difficult. So we’ve put our heads together and come up with 8 of the most effective tips to help you develop sustainable shopping habits.
We should add that no purchase is perfect! And you don’t need to be either. But the more thought you put in, the more you get out.
1. Love Local.
It’s better to buy items that have been made locally. Last year, slow living advocate Courtney Adamo told us why:
“(Generally) the more local the product, the lower its carbon footprint and the greater its sustainability. It’s also really good to know where your goods are coming from and the kind of companies or people your money is going to support.”
The quality is often better too. A lot of fruit and veg that are flown in from abroad have been picked too early so that they can survive the trip.
2. Avoid impulse buying.
The golden rule for any sustainable shopper. Before buying something: hang back, and ask yourself if you really need it.
3. Check the label.
From food items, to clothing, to cosmetics, the key to sustainable shopping is knowing what your products contain. We recommend avoiding items with:
- Palm oil - a leading cause of deforestation.
- Microbeads - tiny pieces of plastic that cause ocean pollution.
And clothing made entirely from:
- Virgin synthetic materials - fashion’s fossil fuel guzzlers.
- Conventional cotton - often pollutes waterways and degrades soil.
Instead, shop for sustainable items that are:
- Natural or organic - better for you and the planet.
- Free range - when is “free” not a good thing?
- Recycled - more on that later.
- MSC certified - for sustainable seafood.
- Fairtrade certified - for sustainable groceries.
4. Know the difference between Ethical and Sustainable.
Specifically, you may have asked: what’s the difference between ethical and sustainable clothing?
Ethical refers more to social “rights” and “wrongs”. It will mean that garment producers have legal rights, aren’t at risk from harsh chemicals, and are paid fairly.
Meanwhile, sustainability relates to time and place. Sustainable garments will be worn for longer, are of higher quality and cause less damage to the environment.
Ethical means happy humans.
Sustainable means happy habitats.
The likelihood is that you care about both! But it’s best to be sure that an “ethical” garment or product is “sustainable” too. Check the company’s website and reputation to be sure.
5. Embrace recycling.
This goes beyond separating your rubbish. Products that are recycled are more sustainable as they use up materials that already exist. Make your next sweater a recycled one!
6. Kick the plastic habit.
61% of shoppers in the UK are already committing to using less single-use plastic. Here’s how you can join the movement:
- Refills - find a local refill store or use sites like Klaeny to shop sustainably for household items.
- Water filters - Get the same taste as bottled water everyday without the piles of plastic.
- Reusable accessories - arm yourself with reusable bottles, bags and cups! We’ve got a few ourselves.
- Paper packaging - if it comes in sustainably sourced paper, we love it already.
7. Face your waste.
It’s pointless buying sustainable items if you then throw them away. Sustainable field guide, Earth MOB has several ideas for tackling kitchen waste in particular. Get organised! Try planning your meals at the start of every week and check your shopping list against what you already have before leaving for the shop. If sharing a flat, the writers claim that “group mentality is the key”. Set up an “eat me” shelf for food you don’t think you’ll use and bulk buy dried ingredients like pasta. Less waste in the bin also means more money in your pockets.
8. The transparency test.
The brands you buy from should feel trustworthy. If they publish information about their impacts, or explain their approach to sustainability then you’re onto a winner. If they dodge the question, that’s the big red flag you want to avoid.
Becoming a sustainable shopper involves knowing your stuff and doing a little research. It can be both rewarding and empowering. Some even say that buying sustainable items at sustainable stores is equal to “voting” for cleaner oceans, safer habitats and better practices all round. By choosing to shop sustainably you’re investing your consumer power in companies that do things differently.