Creating a sustainable planet rests in the hands of industries, their manufacturers, and also individuals. When there's an increase in the demand and advocacy for sustainable practices and products, it challenges more companies to step up. From our daily activities to shopping habits, it's possible to place sustainability at the top of our priorities. From little purchase decisions to those requiring more commitment, we've highlighted tips on how to shop sustainably in this article.
Plastic waste is also another challenge. The World Bank predicts that the amount of waste cities generate will increase by 70% between 2016 and 20504. Also, according to WHO, about 7 million people die yearly due to air pollution. This is due to the increasing rate of carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases.
Due to these alarming numbers and more, people are now becoming conscious of sustainable shopping habits. This is because the kind of items we buy and own says a lot about our environmental impact. And each conscious choice to shop from more sustainable brands, in tune with the 4Rs: Refuse, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle, helps minimize the impact of our consumption and is better for the environment.
Although a single person's lifestyle changes may not lead to significant environmental changes, a global conscious change will create positive effects. These changes also begin with individual and household efforts.
Related: 5 Reasons to Buy Sustainably
The kind of fashion choices we make, such as fast fashion or sustainable fashion, either have a positive or negative environmental impact. This also goes for food choices, appliances, and personal care products.
One of the prominent ways to help you shop sustainably is by being conversant with eco-labels. Eco-labels are also known as environmental or green labels or kitemarks. These refer to specific symbols on a product that reflects its conformity to specific social or environmental standards. Therefore, the symbols serve as guides when shopping.
Whether shopping for sustainable fashion brands, food, or other sustainable products, eco-labels point consumers on the way to eco-friendly brands and items.
According to a study, labels related to Carbon Footprint, Animal Testing and Welfare, Fair Trade, and Rainforest Alliance are among the labels consumers most value1. Below are some eco-labels and their meanings that help people spot fast fashion and check the sustainability efforts of a sustainable brand. So when next you're shopping online or in a physical store, you can identify these to make eco-friendly and ethical shopping decisions.
Any item certified by FSC means that it comes from responsibly managed and sustainable forests. FSC has three labels (100%, recycled, and mixed) which give you an insight into the materials brands use to create a final product.
In addition, certain types of wood that the fashion industry uses can also be FSC certified. So when next you're shopping for clothes from brands that use wood-based textiles, be sure to check for this label. This is a step towards supporting sustainable fashion.
The Mobius Loop is one of the most prominent eco-labels. It signifies that you can recycle an object or packaging. However, this symbol does not suggest that the object or its content is made from recycled pieces.
Sometimes, this symbol comes with specific numbers. The numbers or text indicate the package's recycled content. One of the challenges with the Mobius Loop is that it is susceptible to being used for greenwashing claims by other brands. As a result, it is important to check for accompanying information to support such claims.
The USDA Organic label and certification are directly related to the agricultural industry. The label signifies that an item is organic. This means that the production process relies on natural methods rather than toxic ingredients.
It also indicates that agricultural practices maintain water and soil quality and conserve biodiversity.
The FairTrade label indicates that an item meets certain economic, social, and environmental standards. It addresses ethical and sustainable purchasing and brands.
When shopping fair trade, you can identify brands that provide safe and fair working conditions for their workers, protect the ecosystem, and support community development. From human rights to environmental issues, Fair Trade addresses these. You can find this label on various items such as fashion goods, cocoa, honey, spices, and oils.
GOTS is the prominent organic textiles processing standard for clothes, luxury fashion, and other related goods. The certification and subsequent labeling occur at the various stages of the supply chain when producing textiles for clothes. Therefore, you're assured that an item with a GOTS label has passed the criteria through the process from field to fashion.
The fashion industry, specifically fast fashion, contributes to waste, carbon emissions, and pollution. As a result, a GOTS label tells consumers that a garment meets strict organic standards. It's also an indication that a company's supply chains meet stringent regulations.
The Energy Star symbol signifies energy-efficient items. You can find this symbol on appliances, electronics, and building materials. This certification aims to conserve energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Consequently, this helps homes and businesses save costs and protect the environment.
So whenever you're shopping for home appliances, look out for the symbol. Such appliances reduce waste and your environmental footprint. This also helps save electricity at home and reduced energy bills.
Greenwashing is becoming increasingly prominent within various industries and is something to keep in mind when exploring how to shop sustainably. This term is primarily used within the garment and fashion industry. Brands recognize the growing narrative around sustainability, such as waste reduction and organic pieces. Unfortunately, as a result, some of them make exaggerated or false claims about their sustainable endeavors.
It's one thing for a company or brand to make a claim, but it's another thing to have green credentials to back it up. In this light, identifying green credentials gives consumers the power to choose the brands they associate with and call others out for greenwashing practices. Below are some ways to check on green credentials:
Sustainable businesses are increasingly publishing transparency reports on their sites. This makes it easy for everyone to see their activities easily. For instance, a sustainable fashion brand will post regular reports on its credentials and environmental commitment. Most of these companies will also give precise information on the fabrics they use for their clothes and other items. This helps people comfortably shop sustainably.
Apart from identifying credentials and labels on a business's site, you can also check the regulators' sites. For instance, the B Corp site has a directory list. This helps you search for certified B Corporations - corporations that meet the highest environmental and social performance standards. There are also sites to check a company's ratings, such as its carbon footprint.
You can also identify a company's green credentials through its membership with sustainable organizations, awards, and recognition. You can find this information through a Google search. This can also help you make informed shopping or patronizing decisions.
In this section of the article, we've broken down other useful tips to help you build eco-friendly shopping habits, from little actions like swapping plastic for a tote bag to actively selecting specific fabrics.
Having good knowledge about various types of sustainable fabrics will help you shop with the environment in mind. For instance, a rule of thumb is to avoid synthetic fabrics. These cause harm to the environment and can also cause skin irritations.
Polyester is a popular fabric within the fashion industry primarily because it's cheap to produce. However, polyester is not eco-friendly. Like other synthetic fabrics, it leads to waste and greenhouse gas emissions during production. Synthetic pieces such as nylon and spandex are also non-biodegradable, causing pollution and harm to aquatic life.
On the other hand, organic materials like hemp and organic cotton are environmentally friendly. And recycled polyester beats new virgin synthetics. For example, organic cotton uses 88% less water than cotton produced conventionally and doesn't need harmful chemicals, mitigating the environmental impacts of cotton production and presenting a more eco-friendly option.
Also, businesses are getting creative by using recycled materials such as fishing nets and post-consumer waste to turn synthetic fibers into new garments. Many of these initiatives demonstrate circular fashion in practice, which further points to creative ideas for sustainable pieces and how to shop sustainably.
Avoid cheap clothes not made to last and instead go for better quality versatile pieces that you can wear for a long time.
Buying clothes and other useful pieces from charity shops to give clothes a new life is an environmentally-friendly step to take. Thrifting, as it's known, helps to reduce clothing waste that would otherwise end up in landfills, thereby contributing to pollution.
Secondhand shopping also indirectly reduces the number of excess clothes that businesses produce. This type of shopping has become popular on social media as well. Not only can you shop online for a whole host of stylish things, but you also get to save your money and achieve a more sustainable wardrobe.
Check out our guide to some of the best online thrift stores to get you started. So whenever you need new clothes, fashion, and decor goods, you can consider this option.
It is important to note that the over-consumption of thrifted pieces can also cause significant harm. Therefore, only purchase goods you need. Further, when online shopping, buying in bulk can reduce shipping miles and avoid long shipping distances when you can.
Related: try the buy nothing new challenge
When next you're making a shopping list, consider the origin of the goods you want to buy. Has the store shipped them from other countries? Where do they come from? You're contributing to community development when you buy things that are sourced and made locally.
Shopping locally also means buying goods that have less travel time, reducing food miles. This helps you reduce your carbon footprint and can also save you money. Whether it's local food and grocery store goods or sustainable t-shirts, local shopping has many benefits.
For food, when choosing produce harvested locally, you're most likely guaranteed fresher produce. When traveling further afield, taking public transport can help reduce the impact of your sustainable shop.
When you're not buying secondhand, choosing ethical and sustainable businesses is an excellent consideration. Such businesses prioritize transparency and sustainability in their practices and champion high-quality items.
These businesses ensure the things they make and keep on their shelves are responsibly and ethically sourced. This includes how they acquire raw goods, production ways, and the lifecycle of each item. If you want to be sure about a business's commitment, you can check online for their reports and credentials.
To avoid being a victim of greenwashing, always check the supporting information for each claim a brand makes. The ones that only provide vague information are sometimes involved in greenwashing.
To start your sustainable buying journey online with a few clicks, check out our picks of the best zero-waste stores, all offering sustainable items packaged with the environment in mind. We also have a complete guide to zero-waste products to get you started.
Plastic is one of the major contributing factors to environmental issues. Disposable and single-use plastic, in its various forms, contributes to land and water problems. However, there are many goods you can swap out for zero-waste or nonplastic alternatives, such as water bottles, bags, cutlery, cups, shampoo, and many more.
If you have one, simply frequenting your local or online zero-waste store for refills and plastic-free goods can make a world of difference to waste reduction.
Research shows that about 79% of plastic ends up in the natural environment or landfills3. This leads to various challenges, such as litter problems, health issues, and negative impacts on fish and aquatic life.
Opt for alternatives such as tote bags, reusable water bottles, and goods in environmentally friendly packaging to avoid this. Also, when zero waste grocery shopping, take a tote bag along and opt for loose fruits and vegetables. This helps you avoid unnecessary and wasteful packaging.
The switch to energy efficiency helps reduce the growing energy demand and curb adverse climate impacts related to energy. Electrical appliances and heating systems within the home can contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. This goes on to affect the climate.
By choosing energy-efficient systems, you'll be reducing your environmental footprint, and the gases power plants release into the atmosphere2. This can also help you reduce your electricity costs in the long run.
Contrary to the belief that sustainable shopping directly means more spending, some of these shopping habits can help you save money. Furthermore, you'll find that many of the sustainable alternatives you buy last longer. Finally, with the growing need for environmental protection, shopping sustainably is a way to protect nature.
Grunert, K. G., Hieke, S., & Wills, J. (2014). Sustainability labels on food products: Consumer motivation, understanding and use. Food Policy, 44, 177-189
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (n.d.). Local Energy Efficiency Benefits and Opportunities
|Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made. Roland Geyer, Jenna R. Jambeck and Kara Lavender Law, Science Advances 19 Jul 2017: Vol. 3, no. 7, e1700782, DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782|
The World Bank. (2019, September 23). Solid Waste Management
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.