It’s no secret there are many less-than-ethical practices used throughout the retail industry, as products are manufactured with the aim of generating maximum profit – with environmental due diligence often being glossed over. So we wanted to look at the best ways to shop to ensure sustainable living.
The truth is, though, that the habits of everyday consumers who are unable to find an ethical alternative play a large part in this greater environmental issue.
This post will aim to prove that, with some conscientious behavioural changes, you can reduce your consumer footprint and achieve sustainable living – decreasing your negative impact on the environment forever more.
A lot of modern clothing is made out of polyester, which sheds microscopic, artificial fibres every time it goes through the wash. These tiny bits of thread are small enough to pass through washing machines and sewage systems, and therefore make it out into our oceans.
This can have a devastating impact on sea life, as plankton eat the fibres, and they’re passed onwards through the food chain – harming and sometimes killing birds, fish and crustaceans.
Making the choice to purchase natural clothing made of biodegradable fibres like bamboo (a plant with huge benefits!) can help to solve this, as well as avoiding single-use plastics when consuming food and drink on the go.
Legislation such as the UK’s 5p plastic bag charge can only go so far in terms of the battle to reduce plastic in our oceans. There also needs to be more of a focus on removing unwarranted packaging from food in supermarkets – so try to avoid buying over-packaged items where you can.
Thinking about the materials used along the production line is all well and good, but making sure you’re not purchasing products that are manufactured by exploited workers is another crucial consideration that can’t be ignored.
The most egregious case of unethical worker treatment occurred in Bangladesh in 2013, when an unsafe factory in Dhaka collapsed, causing the deaths of over 1,000 people.
Many household name high-street chains used the factory and were roundly criticised for their response to the disaster.
This crisis of ethics isn’t just a feature of the clothing industry – almost every product produced for western markets relies on some form of exploited labour.
Shoes, bags and even the device you’re reading this on right now are more than likely linked to some form of controversy – both in terms of environmental damage and human rights abuse.
Seeking out ethical, fair-trade alternatives that pay a living wage and ensure worker safety is a positive step towards a more equitable world, and will reduce your consumer footprint substantially.
There are plenty of companies out there that place ethics and fairness at the forefront of their business model – so next time you’re considering a big purchase, consider the ethical option first.
It seems like an obvious step for sustainable living, but a whole lot of people who could be growing their own don’t, and the number of allotments that lie abandoned as their owners lose motivation is not insignificant.
While there’s no magic bullet to keep your interest in an allotment, the amount of money you’ll save is surely a big bonus.
You’ll also reduce the need for plastic vegetable packaging and avoid damaging pesticides, and the food you’ll be tucking into after months of careful cultivation will have no food miles at all.
We think the end product is motivation enough to get you digging and weeding – just make sure you’re purchasing your seeds from eco-friendly sources.
For food you can’t grow yourself, try to stick to ethical and organic brands such as the ones found in the Food section of this very website.
If you have to visit a big store, there are available methods to reduce your footprint, even when purchasing goods from a large multinational company. Instead of driving your car to a retail park, why not cycle?
Just bring a bag big enough to transport whatever you need to buy, and you’ll save money on parking and avoid a car trip in the process.
Making this a regular habit can help keep you fit, too. There’s nothing quite like cycling uphill with panniers full of heavy goods to tone your thigh and calf muscles – and after a few months of doing this, you’ll feel the benefits both in your wallet and in your overall health.
Sustainable living doesn’t only include shopping. Sustainable and eco-conscious holidays don’t necessarily have to mean not going abroad. Indulging your wanderlust is a prime human prerogative and there are plenty of travel and tourism methods out there that will allow you to indulge in a holiday with a smaller consumer footprint.
Heading abroad outside of peak season is ideal, as there will be less strain on the resources in whatever nation you choose to holiday in. Try to avoid flying where you can – especially over short-haul distances.
Europe’s train network is extensive and you could actually save money on flights if you book the right train to get to your continental destination the slow way.
If you find yourself in a sensitive habitat, don’t be tempted to touch or harm any of the local flora or fauna, and make sure you take all your rubbish with you.
You should also try to avoid taking shells, conches or other elements of the local ecosystem home as souvenirs, as items such as these are often harvested for tourism purposes – to the detriment of the local environment that attracts the tourists in the first place.
The main driver of unsustainable production in terms of the clothing sector is repeat purchases of low-quality goods. Investing in hard-wearing, long-lasting clothes and shoes is one simple and highly effective way to cut down on this – a good pair of men’s jeans, for example, can last a lifetime if cared for properly.
For the more budget-conscious amongst us, charity shops are often a goldmine for finding resilient products that have been pre-loved and passed on – think vintage leather jackets and corduroy shirts that have stood the test of time.
This principle extends to just about any retail product, so don’t be afraid to pay a premium price to avoid a further outlay later on.
If you’re anxious about breaking and replacing your technology, investing in a tough case for your phone or tablet will extend its lifespan beyond accidental drops and water spillages.
This reduces the strain on the tech industry and its voracious appetite for minerals such as cobalt, which is mined in dangerous and exploitative conditions in central Africa.
The answer to both questions is typically no, and the impact of artificial cosmetic additives is overwhelmingly negative to the environment.
Plastic microbeads, recently banned by the UK, had a devastating impact on the oceans in the same way as the aforementioned microfibres.
While sodium laureth sulphate, present in most shampoos, has a poisonous effect on wildlife when added to water.
A wide array of such products are available in the Body & Skin Oils section of Calm Happy Healthy, so have a browse and find your ideal ethical skincare solution.
Remaining conscientious in your retail choices is the way forward for a more progressive society that lives in harmony with the environment and offers sustainable living.
Making small lifestyle choices and keeping the wider picture in mind is all you have to do, so make it happen and encourage others to do the same and we may well see the world become a more equitable and harmonious place to live and do business in.
Do you have any great tips of ways to shop and sustainable living? Our other readers would love to hear them in the comments below…
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