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Simple Tips for Sustainable Shopping

5 min read27 August 2023 (Updated: 30 August 2023)

You don’t need vast amounts of mon­ey to live sus­tain­ably, yet the eco move­ment has de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing an ex­pen­sive way to live. Many peo­ple seem to have de­vel­oped mis­con­cep­tions about liv­ing a sus­tain­able lifestyle, see­ing it as an ex­pen­sive en­deav­our, thanks to ve­g­an foods of­ten cost­ing twice as much as their meat and dairy al­ter­na­tives, and eth­i­cal clean­ing or beau­ty prod­ucts usu­al­ly car­ry­ing a pre­mi­um.

Con­sumers are spear­head­ing the sus­tain­abil­i­ty move­ment, de­mand­ing greater trans­paren­cy from busi­ness­es and the em­ploy­ment of al­ter­na­tive ma­te­ri­als. But there are still steps we can take to shop sus­tain­ably, while also keep­ing costs low. With the cost of liv­ing cri­sis still af­fect­ing mil­lions of peo­ple, there are fears that those pre­vi­ous­ly cu­ri­ous about adopt­ing a green­er way of liv­ing will be dis­cour­aged from liv­ing sus­tain­ably in favour of cheap but plas­tic-pack­aged items.

Here are a few sim­ple but ef­fec­tive ways con­sumers can shop sus­tain­ably and re­duce their car­bon foot­print while also keep­ing it af­ford­able.

Buy Used

Every time you avoid buy­ing some­thing new, you help to re­duce the de­ple­tion of re­sources and the pol­lu­tion caused from the man­u­fac­tur­ing, stor­age and trans­porta­tion of that item. Luck­i­ly, buy­ing used items doesn’t only re­duce the en­vi­ron­men­tal toll of shop­ping, but it also saves you mon­ey in the process, which is great news for those on a bud­get. And there are more ways than ever to make use of what’s al­ready been pro­duced.

Nu­mer­ous plat­forms are avail­able for buy­ing and sell­ing used items you no longer need, ac­com­pa­nied by a va­ri­ety of apps and on­line com­mu­ni­ties. These re­sources con­nect you with like-mind­ed in­di­vid­u­als who are equal­ly com­mit­ted to eco­nom­i­cal and eco-friend­ly prac­tices. From clothes and tech to fur­ni­ture and ap­pli­ances, you can usu­al­ly grab a bar­gain by buy­ing used items, and you re­duce the pro­duc­tion of new prod­ucts in the process.

Min­imise Your On­line Or­ders

On­line shop­ping has be­come the go-to in re­cent years, and no won­der — it’s con­ve­nient, saves us time and of­ten gives us ac­cess to prod­ucts we don’t have avail­able to us lo­cal­ly. How­ev­er, the con­ve­nience it of­fers can some­times tempt us into buy­ing more than we ac­tu­al­ly need. One area where it’s not ben­e­fi­cial is fi­nan­cial­ly. Con­tin­u­al­ly plac­ing on­line or­ders does more harm than good in terms of your bank ac­count, par­tic­u­lar­ly dur­ing such chal­leng­ing times. What’s more, it’s detri­men­tal to the en­vi­ron­ment, in­creas­ing pol­lu­tion and pack­ag­ing waste.

Shop­ping sus­tain­ably doesn’t have to mean an out­right ban on on­line or­ders, but by min­imis­ing them to just once or twice a month in­stead of nu­mer­ous times each week, you re­duce the num­ber of ship­ments to your home which con­sol­i­dates pack­ag­ing and low­ers pol­lu­tion from de­liv­er­ies.

Spend More to Save More

Though coun­ter­in­tu­itive dur­ing fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties, it can of­ten be more worth­while to in­vest a lit­tle more in a durable item rather than opt­ing for the cheap­est prod­uct that might need re­plac­ing with­in a few months. It may mean wait­ing a lit­tle longer for an item, so you can save up for it, but in the long-term, it makes fi­nan­cial sense to shop for high­er qual­i­ty prod­ucts that you won’t need to re­place straight away.

This prin­ci­ple doesn't just ap­ply to tech and cloth­ing, how­ev­er. It may mean you need to buy a slight­ly more ex­pen­sive but bet­ter qual­i­ty sham­poo bar over a cheap­er bot­tle of liq­uid sham­poo, which will last longer and ar­rive with­out the plas­tic pack­ag­ing. Sim­i­lar­ly, a bet­ter qual­i­ty make-up item that you don’t need to use as much of it is a bet­ter in­vest­ment for you and the plan­et be­cause you won’t need to re­place it as quick­ly.

Avoid Im­pulse Pur­chas­es

Im­pulse pur­chas­es are a huge threat to sus­tain­able shop­ping, and they can quick­ly re­sult in you buy­ing items you don’t re­al­ly need, which then sit in a draw­er or cup­board un­used for months. Even­tu­al­ly, they’re more like­ly to be thrown away en­tire­ly, which leads to un­nec­es­sary waste and mon­ey out of your pock­et which you didn’t need to spend.

Dur­ing fi­nan­cial­ly chal­leng­ing times, be­ing mind­ful of your ex­pens­es is cru­cial, and curb­ing im­pulse pur­chas­es serves as an ef­fec­tive mea­sure. It’s worth ask­ing your­self a few ques­tions be­fore you buy some­thing. Do you re­al­ly need it? Is there some­thing sim­i­lar you al­ready own that would work just as well? And can the pur­chase wait un­til a lat­er date, or do you gen­uine­ly need it straight away? These ques­tions will help you de­ter­mine be­tween wants and needs, and min­imise the risk of you buy­ing some­thing un­nec­es­sar­i­ly.

Do Your Re­search

Con­sumers need to be savvi­er when mak­ing pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions, in or­der to dis­cern be­tween gen­uine­ly sus­tain­able busi­ness­es and those en­gag­ing in green­wash­ing prac­tices. By pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the lo­gos fea­tured on pack­ag­ing and web­sites, and look­ing into the busi­ness cul­ture and val­ues, shop­pers can en­sure they’re buy­ing from brands that are do­ing all they can for the en­vi­ron­ment rather than just prof­its. This will look dif­fer­ent for each brand, but look­ing at the ma­te­ri­als used for prod­ucts, the pack­ag­ing a busi­ness uses and the mea­sures it's tak­ing to off­set its car­bon foot­print will all help you make smarter, more sus­tain­able and more cost-ef­fec­tive pur­chas­es.

The ris­ing trends in on­line shop­ping clear­ly in­di­cate peo­ple's de­sire for more sus­tain­able prac­tices. But, now more than ever, it needs to make sense fi­nan­cial­ly in or­der for them to adopt green­er prac­tices for the long term. The cost of liv­ing cri­sis is forc­ing every­one to pri­ori­tise, but there’s no rea­son why you can still con­sid­er the en­vi­ron­ment when mak­ing pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions. Be­ing mind­ful about how you spend your mon­ey makes a big dif­fer­ence to the plan­et and con­tributes to reach­ing those all-im­por­tant net-zero goals. As we’ve seen, liv­ing sus­tain­ably doesn’t have to be ex­pen­sive and it could be a lifestyle switch that ac­tu­al­ly ben­e­fits your wal­let as well as your sur­round­ings.

Guest blog post by An­nie But­ton, an Eng­lish grad­u­ate who spe­cialis­es in mar­ket­ing and busi­ness con­tent.