How to Shop Sustainably During The Holidays

It's the Holiday Season! With final exams coming up and the added stress of having to complete our holiday shopping (or begin it) it is difficult to think about the environment right now. But we can’t ignore climate change and the fight for a more sustainable economy. 

Now, more than ever, many of us are trying to take steps to transition into more sustainable lifestyles. Living more sustainably can mean using less electricity, driving fewer miles, and taking shorter showers. But we often forget that how and what we buy and the businesses we support can have drastic effects on our environment, more so than our individual actions. 

Through the extraction of resources, high amounts of water and energy used, and the added factor of shipping, the industrial sector of the economy accounts for a significant source of greenhouse gases emitted in the United States. As consumers, we have the potential to decrease industrial pollution by making these smarter shopping decisions:  

 

Buy Used 

To be the perfect ethical and environmentally friendly consumer, the ideal option would of course be not buying at all. But when that isn’t possible, our next best option is to buy used. We should throw out the stigma that comes with shopping at stores like Goodwill, because buying used is significantly better for the environmnet. 

When it comes to clothing, don’t just buy used, but try to wear the clothes you already own for as long as possible before throwing them out. And if you really get bored of them, choose to donate them or even organize a clothing swap among your friends! 85% of our clothing eventually ends up landfills. We can decrease that number by wearing the clothes we have for as long as possible, then donating or recycling them if we can before throwing them out. 

Websites like Craigslist are great for buying used furniture, bikes, electronic appliances, and a number of other items one might need. Buying used is a better financial option too. Used items are significantly less expensive than new ones and sometimes even completely free! 

 

Buy Locally 

When choosing where to do your holiday shopping, opt to head downtown in your local city rather take a trip to the mall. Supporting local and small businesses means the items you buy had to travel fewer miles than if you had ordered from an online store or chain. 

And supporting local businesses doesn’t only provide environmental benefits. By buying from a small, local businesses, you know more about where your money is going. It might be used to pay employees who live in the community or the business owners might use it themselves to buy groceries for their families. Small businesses actually employ about half of the working class in the United States, so supporting them is crucial to the wellbeing of our economy. 

 

Gift Experiences

Sometimes the best gift you can give to someone isn’t a physical item that must be produced and shipped. Rather than giving someone an item of clothing or a new phone, consider buying them tickets to go see their favorite band, or maybe passes to the aquarium. Even though these gifts don’t last forever, they can be very thoughtful and create memories for years to come. 

 

Buy from Ethical and Sustainable Businesses

Supporting a sustainable business should be a no brainer. But how can you tell if a company really uses sustainable materials and methods of production? There are a few signs you can look for to determine how environmentally friendly a business is: 

  1. Transparency - Is it easy to find information on where the company sources their materials and how they produce their products? Do they encourage and answer customer questions? Are they honest about the treatment and payment of their employees? A transparent business should not only be honest about their practices and policies, but proud of the way the operate and the products they produce. 

  2. Certified Labels - Many companies are quick to label their products “green” or “eco-friendly” when in fact their methods of production are the opposite. Look for specific certifications on the products such as “Fair trade Certified” or “made with 100% organic ingredients,” rather than labels that any company can slap on themselves. 

  3. Price - While this may not apply to every company, it is unlikely that businesses that use sustainable methods of production will sell their items at extremely low prices. Using organic, fair trade, materials or ones that can be recycled or composted while also providing fair working conditions to employers is expensive for companies. Therefore, they typically must price their items higher than usual to compensate. 

  4. Sustainability Reports - Look at the company’s own website for reports about their emissions and material usage. Companies that truly care about becoming environmentally friendly will make an effort to reduce their emissions and hold themselves accountable. The Social Funds database lets users search for environmental related reports and news articles about specific companies in order to help consumers invest more sustainably. 

Sustainable business practices should be the norm, and we cannot achieve this until we end our support of unethical businesses who make no effort to become more environmentally friendly. 

 

Choose Longer Shipping Times (or don’t ship at all)

If you’ve left your holiday shopping to the last minute like so many of us do, and don’t have time to head out to your local stores to pick up some presents, ordering online can be a perfect solution. During the holidays especially, many online stores offer free, or cheaper fast shipping. But overnight-ing your package might mean it has to travel by airplane. Express delivery also requires extra packaging such as special boxes with extensive padding. Often these materials aren’t recyclable and go straight to a landfill. 

If you must ship your presents, when possible, try to choose longer shipping times even when shorter times are free or priced the same. Slower shipping speeds save fuel and reduce emissions and may not require the use of airplanes. 

Of course, ideally, try not ship your gifts. Buy from businesses in your community or look for online, electronic presents to send out such as gift cards or money. 

Lastly, if we want to live sustainably we must prioritize and focus on our needs rather than our wants. Before you buy something new, ask yourself the following questions: do I need this item? If so, can I get it used? If not, am I buying from a company that prioritizes the environment by using sustainable production methods and ingredients? Am I at least supporting a local or small business? 

We all make mistakes. Even I order from websites like Amazon from time to time. But since taking an interest in sustainability I have begun to make small changes in my life to become more sustainable by consuming responsibly. By taking these steps to become a smarter, more environmentally friendly shopper, you can significantly reduce your own carbon footprint and help us transition into a more sustainable society. 

 

Happy Holidays!