Tips for Sustainable Shopping and Ethical Consumerism

What do I mean by Sustainable Shopping and Ethical Consumerism?

I touched on this briefly in Why Zero Waste?, but I want to get back to talking about how your dollar, how every purchase you make, has an impact. 


To become aware of the waste we produce is like putting on a new pair of glasses; suddenly you start to see clearly things you had taken for granted before. 

The realization that every product we come into contact with has in some way had an impact on the environment makes it harder to actually be a consumer.  No longer do you skip through life blissfully unaware or unthinking in your actions.  It is quite revolutionary and, frankly, can some times feel overwhelming and burdensome.  We have such a responsibility in making the correct choices when we consume that it can often cause paralysis.  Don't get me wrong, it feels great to know you've made a good choice when you do, but it can also mean that you come home empty-handed.  Not that empty-handed is necessarily a bad thing, but it is when you, say, need sunscreen for your super fair-skinned children, for example.  True.  

Here are some tips and tricks to Shopping and Consuming Sustainably

Buy local

The first question you have to ask yourself:

Is there somewhere I could get this locally?


For us, in Santa Cruz, California, there has been an incredibly strong "buy local" movement for a long time, so shops and stores will often have a sticker in their window to make finding these local spots easier.  

Get to know the shops in your area.  

If buying online, you could search for the product you need with the search terms "made in the USA" or "made in California" if you're from Cali, for example.  This way you can at least try to minimize the carbon emissions generated with getting that package to your doorstep.    


Buy recycled

Buying TP?  Look for products made from recycled paper, like Seventh Generation TP made from 100% recycled paper or Who Gives a Crap.  

When you buy a product made from recycled materials you are supporting that company's ongoing efforts to use recycled material.  Often you won't notice any difference in quality either, so it's a win-win.  

Buy second-hand products

Our kids were crazy sunburned after a day at the beach (damn is the Australian sun strong!)  Nothing makes me feel more like a bad parent than staring at their bright red faces, so we were kinda retreating from the sun for a few days.


Needless to say, boredom struck.  We went on a quest for games at a thrift store in Ballina and scored Guess Who, Risk and Connect Four for $5!   What?!  Home run!  Given that we're staying in an AirBnB, we will just leave the games behind for future visitors when we move on.  Score for them too!

Around Australia and New Zealand there are "Op Shops" everywhere, which receive donated items and resell them to benefit a specific charity.  Find your local thrift store or Op Shop and take the time to browse through their items because more often than not, you will find some treasures and walk away feeling so stoked that you only spent $4 on a shirt, or 50 cents on a book you were about to buy brand new for $30 (true story!).  

Bring your own bag

So simple, yet so hard.  I basically stash tote bags everywhere to avoid not having a bag when I need it.   I find it's much easier if I keep the totes by the front door, next to my purse, or in my car to make grabbing them brainless.  

And when shop owners ask me if I need a bag I always say no, even if it means awkwardly carrying my things around for a bit when I've forgotten my tote.  

Choose sustainably sourced wood

Look for the Forest Stewardship Counsel (FSC) label or use this in your internet search terms.  Can't find it?  Ask. If enough people ask, they may consider stocking, which will help promote sustainable forestry practices.  

Say "yes" to sustainable seafood

The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program provides consumers with info on which seafood options are the Best Choice, Good Alternative, or to Avoid.  They have an app you can install on your phone to make it easy to reference while you're on the go.  

And who doesn't LOVE sushi?  Won't it taste that much sweeter knowing it's sustainable?  Man, I miss Geisha Sushi in Santa Cruz, which uses sustainably sourced seafood to make choosing your eats that much easier.  This place is one of my all-time favs.  Their udon is incredible! 

You can also join a fish CSA.  

The less packaging the better

I love Trader Joe's.  Their food is ridiculously convenient for on-the-go or easy dinners, but PLEASE, stop using so much packaging!  So, when presented with 4 apples packaged in a plastic clam shell, choose the loose apples.  That's an easy one.  But honestly, I find it easier to shop at other stores that have bulk products and bring my own bags or jars to put my goods in.  This way I can also feel better about my dollars going to a company that doesn't use needless packaging.  Is it more expensive? Yes.  Not gonna lie, it's a choice I make.  

Choose biodegradable cleaning products

Love to DIY?  Check out my Pinterest Boards for some recipes I've compiled.  There are a ton out there, for almost anything you could think of!  One of my favorite zero waste bloggers, Going Zero Waste, has A TON of DIY info on her site.  Check that out.

If you aren't a DIY-er, then try out some of these brands featured on The Good Trade.  I always try to look for products not packaged in plastic or for the recycling symbol if it is plastic.   There are more and more great products available that make these choices easier.   Beware of greenwashing-here is an article from Treehugger about How to find a company that is truly green.

Buy energy-efficient appliances

ENERGY STAR® is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency, providing simple, credible, and unbiased information that consumers and businesses rely on to make well-informed decisions.

In the US, we look for the Energy Star sticker when choosing between new appliances.  

Buying a used appliance?  Nice work!  I would recommend finding the NEW appliance that you want (that way you can look at the Energy Star rating) and then begin your search for any used versions of that appliance.  You won't always have success, but you may learn brands or years in which the efficiency and other features are what you're looking for.  Make sense?  

Think before you buy

Impulse purchases are always the worst.  Don't they often come back to bight you in the rear?  Mine do.  I find that if I take my time to think about what it is that I want exactly and then try to find the product to meet that need or desire to the T, then I tend to have much more success.  It's like trying to find a restaurant to eat at when you're not really in the mood for anything.  You end up wandering around, nothing clicking, until you are starving and then you just choose the first thing in front of you. 

Buyer's remorse is real!  Try to avoid it by taking your time.  


Have any other tips or tricks I didn't mention here?  Drop me a line!