Sustainable living requires a commitment to eco-friendly choices both inside and outside your home. After all, environmental responsibility shouldn’t stop once you venture beyond your doorstep—especially if you’re heading to your local grocery store, farmer’s market, or pharmacy.
Sustainable shopping is part and parcel of any climate-aware lifestyle. Whether shopping sustainably is already second nature or you’re taking your first crack at shopping with the planet in mind, this guide can help you reach your green goals.
We’ll teach you how to shop sustainably by exploring the general concept and breaking down nine tips for eco-friendly shopping success.
What Does Sustainable Shopping Look Like?
Shopping sustainably isn’t complicated, but if you’re new to the concept, knowing where to start can present a puzzle.
Fortunately, the idea of environmental sustainability itself can help to guide our efforts. Sustainability refers to practices that prioritize the health of our environment, our societies, and our economies. Sustainable practices also involve efforts to use renewable resources—and preserve finite ones for future generations.
Therefore, sustainable shopping involves making choices that similarly help to support our earth and its future.
9 Tips for Sustainable Shopping
So, just how can you shop sustainably? Conquer your grocery list, pharmacy order, or errands run with the planet in mind by considering the following tips.
#1 Create a List of Green Companies
Before you hop on the bus and head to your usual grocery store, do some homework. Creating a list of green companies before your next shopping trip will jumpstart your eco-friendly shopping efforts.
First, think of all the places where you typically purchase products, like:
- The grocery store
- The pharmacy
- Clothing and shoe retailers
- Sporting goods stores
- Tech retailers
- Craft or hobby shops
- Office supply stores
Then, search for a company nearby that prioritizes eco-friendliness and sustainability. Come up with at least one venue for each category above, and keep your list on hand for impromptu errands.
If all that sounds like too much work, you can pull from a list of eco-friendly companies that already exist. The Conscience Coalition is full of environmentally and socially responsible brands that put doing the right thing at the top of their priority lists. Plus, when you use Aspiration’s eco-friendly debit card at Conscience Coalition businesses, you automatically get up to 10% cash back.
#2 Stay Focused by Making a Shopping List
Making a list before you head to the grocery store might seem like a given, or at least a basic tactic for smart shopping. After all, it’s a prime way to ensure you find all the right ingredients for your seven-layer nacho dip or summer salad.
But list-making can also help you make positive changes to your shopping habits—changes that can help to address your carbon footprint and help you to shop sustainably.
When you stick to a shopping list, you can:
- Save money by skipping (or at least reducing) your impulse purchases
- Avoid buying more than you need, and thereby avoid wasting unnecessary food or packaging
- Quickly grab preselected, eco-friendly products you’ve already researched, avoiding time-consuming head-scratching while you’re in the store
#3 Shop with Friends and Family
We can’t change the course of climate change on our own—tangible change requires a widespread effort and an all-hands-on-deck approach.
With a collective effort, why not shop with your family and friends to spread the word and encourage others to make more environmentally responsible purchases? Consider the following tactics:
- Carpool to the store to help offset your overall emissions. Instead of driving yourselves individually to the store, hitch a ride with a friend.
- Buy bulk products and portion them into reusable containers. This is helpful for a couple of reasons:
- Bulk products are generally cheaper, saving you and your shopping buddy hard-earned cash.
- Bulk shopping eliminates unnecessary packaging waste, especially if you skip store-provided plastic containers and bring your reusable ones.
- Encourage accountability. You and your shopping buddies can help each other stick to your sustainable plans while picking up the week’s groceries.
#4 Talk to Local Businesses
While building your list of green companies, remember that business models and individual philosophies can change. A business that wasn’t recycling or using sustainable manufacturing practices when you first made your list could have made a complete, green turnaround the next time you reevaluate your roster.
That said, business owners are human, and they can be persuaded to make more responsible choices.
If your favorite local business (or small chain) isn’t making an effort to operate with their environmental impact on the planet in mind, start a conversation with them about their role in building a sustainable future.
#5 Prioritize Sustainable Fashion
The fashion industry is notorious for utilizing fast fashion tactics without much care for the planet or its inhabitants. When shopping for clothes, be sure to pick from brands that use sustainable fashion practices, such as using sustainable materials like fair trade organic cotton or recycled material in their clothes.
You also can buy second-hand at a thrift store for clothing instead of supporting the fast fashion industry. Bring your old clothes and donate them for a win-win ethical fashion shopping experience.
When searching for an ethical brand, if you ever come across a brand that claims to be a B Corporation (B Corp for short), you’re probably in a good place. B Corps are businesses that voluntarily uphold the strictest standards for performance in the social and environmental realms. Their company’s impacts on all stakeholders are thoroughly assessed as part of the rigorous certification process, and B Lab, the nonprofit organization that created the B Corp certification, verifies the results.
#6 Invest in Reusable Containers
We all love free stuff—after all, who would pass up a free sample of your neighborhood bakery’s newest chocolate croissant? But when it comes to those produce bags, plastic cartons, and grocery bags we get at no cost from the grocery store, free isn’t exactly free.
In fact, all of those single-use plastics can add up to a substantial cost for our planet.
Instead, invest in a few reusable tote bags, containers, and veggie bags that you can bring with you each time you go. If you really want to make this step count, you can also track down your local refill store. These sustainable grocery stores allow you to bring your own reusable vessels for items like shampoo, household cleaners, and pantry staples. Litterless offers a helpful guide on where to find refill stores in your state.
#7 Shop with the Season in Mind
We live in a pretty incredible world—one where delicious scarlet tomatoes, vibrant green peas, and golden yellow squash are available year-round, no matter what climate we live in. But the availability of fresh produce year-round isn’t always sustainable.
That’s because those foods are often grown far from where we live, meaning that they must be stored and transported to us before we can consume them. Compared to in-season foods grown locally, this process can create more emissions overall.
In comparison, eating foods when they’re in season means:
- They’re likely to come from sources closer to where we live
- Seasonal foods are fresher and are therefore often much tastier
- We can support our local economies and farmers rather than those of distant places
For a helpful resource on which foods are in season where you live for each month of the year, check out the Seasonal Food Guide.
#8 Reduce or Combine Your Online Purchases
Having access to the internet means that millions of products and services are at our fingertips and that we can have almost anything we want at the click of a button. But for each separate order we make, we’re also creating a chain of impact—one where planes, ships, and delivery vehicles all work to deliver that order to our door.
For those aiming to shop sustainably, considering your online purchases carefully can be a key way to reduce your indirect carbon footprint.
Next time you place an order, consider if you can wait just a little longer to receive that item. Can you combine it with a bulk order next week, or even go buy it in person instead?
You can also plan to make your online orders on a scheduled basis, such as once or twice a month. That way, you can add your impulse buys to your cart but ensure they’ll arrive in one larger, more sustainable delivery.
#9 Share Your Sustainable Shopping Strategies
On their own, our efforts to prioritize the planet can make a difference from day to day. But imagine how much our sustainable lifestyles could bloom if we were all participating in them together?
In other words, your sustainable shopping habits don’t have to stop with you. Share your sustainable finds on social media, gift a friend a reusable shopping bag, or take sustainability workshops together.
All in all, the steps you take to spread awareness can make a bigger impact with each and every purchase.
Aspiration: Connecting Environmentalists with Green Businesses
Shopping sustainably can seem intimidating, but the tips above can help you craft a green shopping plan that can benefit the planet and your wallet.
At Aspiration, we’re all about sustainable innovation and connecting environmentally responsible consumers with the businesses that share their values. That’s why we created the Conscience Coalition, a database of eco-friendly brands working hard to put the planet first.
Plus, when you use your eco-friendly debit card at Conscience Coalition businesses, you automatically get up to 10% cash back.
We’re so much more than a sustainable financial services provider. We’re a catalyst for a greener future, creating sustainable innovations that help you manage your money smarter. Aspiration’s green credit card and other financial solutions are only as impactful as your shopping choices, and the Conscience Coalition can help you shop sustainably every step of the way.
UCLA. What is Sustainability? https://www.sustain.ucla.edu/what-is-sustainability/
Time Magazine. Lifestyle Changes Aren’t Enough to Save The Planet. Here’s What Could. https://time.com/5669071/lifestyle-changes-climate-change/
Cultivating Capital. What is a B Corporation? Everything You Need to Know. https://www.cultivatingcapital.com/b-corporation/
Oceanic Society. 7 Solutions To Ocean Plastic Pollution. https://www.oceanicsociety.org/resources/7-ways-to-reduce-ocean-plastic-pollution-today
Seasonal Food Guide. Why Eat Seasonally? https://www.seasonalfoodguide.org/why-eat-seasonally