With the holiday season underway, many of us are stocking up on gifts and increasing our consumption. Find out how to shrink the ecological footprint of your purchases by shopping sustainably, and read on for a sustainable gift guide for the holidays!
The Inconvenient Truth
Natural resources are continually extracted to produce goods that are used in the U.S., often briefly, before being tossed into landfills. Each step in a good’s production, distribution, use, and disposal has an environmental impact. Global supply chains account for a majority of corporate emissions and often require significant energy, water, chemical, and material use (1). All this, while it’s estimated that the average American throws out around 7 pounds of material each day – roughly three times the global average (2). This waste is then sent to landfills and incinerators, which emit harmful pollutants into nearby communities – often in low-income communities and communities of color (3). This cycle of consumption and disposal results in wasted natural resources and pollution that threatens our health, environment, and climate. Fortunately, we can each do our part to help break this cycle.
What Does It Mean To Be A Conscious Consumer?
Conscious consumption means engaging with the economy with more awareness of how our purchases impact the environment and society at large. We live in a consumerist culture with constant pressures to buy, buy, buy. These pressures can lead us to become unconscious of the impact of our purchases. The effects of this kind of culture result in an outsized dependence on fossil fuels and other non-renewables. All of which contribute to climate change and the pollution of our air and water (4).
While we wait for corporations to act on environmental issues, and encourage them to do so, we can use our collective purchasing power to encourage social change. The good news? Shopping sustainably can not only help cut down on waste and pollution but save you money as well!
How To Shop Consciously
To break this cycle of unbridled consumerism, try to practice mindfulness in each of your purchases. Consider the entire life cycle impact of a product: from raw materials to its usable lifespan to its disposal. Individual choices add up quickly, so consider the following practices to reduce the environmental impact of your purchases:
Go minimal. Adopting a more minimalist lifestyle can make a significant difference in your environmental impact. Before you check out, check in with yourself and learn to distinguish between necessary and unnecessary buys. Limit non-essential purchases to save money and support the planet!
Prioritize products that are built to last. Planned obsolescence is a major driver of waste. When it comes to electronics, household items, clothing, and so many other goods, we’re encouraged to ditch current models to buy more (5). To avoid this, opt for items that will last longer, and the planet (as well as your wallet) will thank you.
Shop local and shop small. There are so many benefits of supporting small local businesses, especially in these trying times. Shopping locally can reduce the environmental impact of your purchases. Locally owned businesses tend to make more local purchases, which require less transportation and fewer emissions (6).
Buy used. Shopping second-hand is one of the best ways to reduce your ecological footprint. Plus, pre-owned goods can offer big savings without compromising on quality. Whether it’s clothes, accessories, furniture, books, electronics, or vehicles, it always feels good to give something another life. (7).
Look for less packaging. Nearly one-third of garbage collected in the U.S. comes from containers and packaging, which are typically thrown out after purchase (2). Some companies are beginning to account for the impact of packaging and are starting to offer products with little or no packaging. A good tip is to avoid individually packaged goods, like snack packs. Buying items in bulk can also often lessen the packaging involved. (8)
Avoid single-use plastics. Single-use plastics are made from fossil fuel-based chemicals and are meant to be discarded immediately after use. Producing plastic is very carbon-intensive and emits harmful pollutants into our air. Because plastic isn’t biodegradable, every piece of plastic ever produced is still on this planet in some form. Some easy ways to avoid single-use plastics include bringing reusable bags to the grocery, using a reusable water bottle, and storing food in reusable containers. (9)
Embrace slow fashion. The impacts of the fashion industry supply chain are immense, and the average American is responsible for 70 lbs of textile waste per year (10)(11). We can offset this waste by mending and reusing the clothes we own, swapping with friends, and shopping second-hand. When you do need to buy something new, opt for quality, long-lasting items (12).
Opt for natural ingredients and materials. Ethical consumption has increased in recent years as a result of more pressing environmental issues, making it easier to find products made with the planet in mind. If possible, research and buy from companies that put the planet and people first. Bamboo and hemp are great materials because they both grow quickly, require fewer resources, and are naturally renewable!
Sustainable Gift Guide
Every holiday season, we face the decision of what to gift our loved ones. Giving gifts should be about thoughtfulness and gratitude, and it doesn’t have to come at a cost to the planet. Instead of piling on more stuff, consider these gifts for sustainable giving during the holidays and all year round:
Classes and workshops – I love to give (and receive!) the gift of an experience. Personally, after watching the Great Pottery Throw Down this year, a wheel pottery class is at the top of my wish list. Online courses are another great option!
A massage or spa treatment – Give the gift of relaxation and pamper your loved ones! It’s hard to go wrong here. When it’s safe to receive these treatments, this gift will be much appreciated.
A gift card to a favorite local restaurant – Support the hard-hit restaurant industry and give the gift of a delicious meal. Just don’t forget to pack up your leftovers!
Organize an affordable weekend trip – Plan a trip for when it’s safe to travel! Book some train tickets and an Airbnb or campsite for a memory-making, low-cost getaway from the city.
Books – Books (new, used, or online) can offer something for everyone on your list. Round up some reads that a friend will love and leave a thoughtful message inside for a personal gift. Opt for independent booksellers over large corporations whenever possible.
Offset their carbon emissions – Ask your loved one to calculate their annual emissions (or estimate it yourself) with Conservation International and purchase carbon offsets to cancel out their personal emissions (13). Carbon offsets provide measurable reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and help protect forests, preserve biodiversity, and benefit local communities (14).
Composting service – While D.C. offers free compost drop-off at select farmers markets around the district, there are lots of companies that offer home pick-up services. A great gift for a busy friend! Learn more about composting in ourMindful Meals blog post.
Donate in their name – There are so many incredible non-profit organizations that are doing good for our environment and communities. Oftentimes smaller local actors are the ones that make the most impact and need the most support.
Meditation class or app – Sign your loved one up for a meditation class or give a subscription to one of the many meditation apps out there today.
Class pack from Yoga District – For the fellow yogis in your life, give the gift that keeps on giving with a class pack from Yoga District!
EPA Center for Corporate Climate Leadership Supply Chain Guidance, https://www.epa.gov/climateleadership/center-corporate-climate-leadership-supply-chain-guidance
Trash in America, https://frontiergroup.org/reports/fg/trash-america
DC’s Waste and Environmental Racism, http://www.energyjustice.net/content/dcs-waste-and-environmental-racism
Shop Till We Drop: Does Consumption Culture Contribute to Environmental Degradation?,https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/our-destructive-consumer/
Build to last: The environmental impact of planned durability, https://www.greenbiz.com/article/built-last-environmental-impact-planned-durability
Think Local! 7 Reasons Why Supporting Local Business is Good for Your Community, https://blog.mass.gov/blog/consumer-advice/think-local-7-reasons-why-supporting-local-business-is-good-for-your-community/#:~:text=They%20care%20about%20and%20are,carbon%20footprint%20than%20larger%20companies.
How Second-Hand Shopping Can Save The Planet, https://greenwithless.com/second-hand-shopping-planet/
Trash in America, https://frontiergroup.org/reports/fg/trash-america
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