For years, like a child stuck on the wrong side of a playground fence, I watched my friends treat themselves to clothes and decor from darling online shops, while I refrained. Their homes and closets slowly filled out with pieces I’d never seen in shops nearby.
Yet I held strong. I didn’t want to irresponsibly use earth’s resources, just so I could have a few novel items.
But, then I slowly started to realize that online shopping isn’t all that bad. You can do your research to find eco-conscious online retailers that actually invest in the future of the planet. When I finally gave into online shopping, I ran giddily into that metaphorical playground with limbs flailing!
Whether you’re just starting to green your lifestyle or you’ve always been a conscientious shopper, here are six ways that you can keep your online purchases earth-friendly:
1. Buy items as close to home as possible.
Buying online may actually produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than driving to a brick-and-mortar store to shop. Why? If you think about it, it’s sort of the same as carpooling. You and 47% of your neighbors1 are all purchasing goods online. Although every package is coming from a different place, they’re all traveling in shared vehicles with other packages that people have sent away for! In fact, personal cars and small trucks produce 60% of the United States’ transportation emissions while freight trucks produce less than 18% and planes only 10%2! When you drive to the mall or a department store to make a purchase, you’ll be contributing to that 60%.
Even so, keeping it close-to-home is always better, seeing as every gallon of gasoline that’s burned results in 24 pounds of global-warming gas emissions2. That’s a lot of pollution! So, the closer your goods are to their destination, the better it is for the planet. Keep in mind that some things may be shipping from within the U.S. even though they were made in China, so while you aren’t directly causing the burning of those fossil fuels, you are still supporting it.
Many websites (eBay, for example) offer options that allow you to narrow your search to items sold from within your country. Some, like Etsy.com, even allow you to shop exclusively within your city! If this search option doesn’t exist on the website you’re browsing, the item description should tell you the product’s country of origin and Customer Service will know where it’s shipping from.
2. Choose products that are made conscientiously.
Choosing things made with natural or recycled materials is a great way to limit your impact on the Earth.
However, some natural materials are better than others. For example, if cotton is not certified organic, it has probably been sprayed with a chemical cocktail to prevent pests and weeds from invading during growth. Even if it is organic, cotton can use hundreds of gallons of water to process into a usable fabric. The good news about textiles is that there are plenty of other natural fibers to choose from (like soy or linen) that provide comfort and breathability while using up fewer resources during processing.
As far as wood goes, if it isn’t sustainably harvested then it’s contributing to our planet’s rapid deforestation. To avoid these types of problems, choose items that have a traceable history and credible certifications. If a company invests its time and money into sourcing eco-friendly materials and processing them without the use of carcinogenic dyes, bleach and other problematic treatments, then they will make that information available to the consumer. Don’t forget that there’s a lot of “green-washing” out there right now, so some companies may appear to be eco-friendly even though they don’t provide a lot of background information on their products. This means they might use just enough of one green material so that they can put it on the label, but blend it in with cheap synthetic fibers (made from petroleum-based chemicals) to balance out the cost.
3. Buy second-hand.
There’s a saying that I always come back to: “The greenest house is the one that’s already built.” Basically, the damage has already been done, so rather than using up more energy to create a new DVD, for example, just buy a used copy! Check the return policy of the website you’re buying from and if they have free returns then you really have nothing to lose. A scratched DVD can always be returned or exchanged, but making a brand new one when there are already plenty available is pretty unnecessary.
4. Support companies that give back.
So many companies these days make it a priority to invest in environmental projects. While you’re considering an online purchase, take a moment to check out the company’s mission and investments. For example, W.S. Badger’s website has plenty of information available to show that they are really invested in the future of our planet and its people.
Don’t see any good deeds on the website you’re browsing? Then the company you’re looking at probably isn’t all that environmentally responsible. If they were, they’d want you to know.
A few of organizations/terms to get excited about:
- B Corp – This is a certification available only to companies who have passed rigorous tests proving that they are socially and environmentally responsible and that they value accountability and transparency in their business model.
- 1% For The Planet – These are companies that have pledged to donate at least 1% of their profits to successful non-profit organizations with a focus in environmental causes.
- Forest Stewardship Council – An international not-for-profit organization that certifies responsible forest management.
- Fair Trade – Fair Trade Certified products have passed strict inspections throughout their development to ensure environmental and cultural sustainability.
5. Purchase carbon offsets.
This is one of the biggest things you can do to help. Keep track of how many things you buy online, how far they have to come to get to you, and once a year purchase carbon offsets to make up for them. A carbon offset is an investment in projects that capture and absorb carbon from our environment. By being a part of this process you can neutralize your shipping damages!
6. Reuse and recycle your packaging.
To make sure that your purchase arrives safely, online stores will pack it in Styrofoam, peanuts and/or bubble wrap. These can be reused for years! If you don’t send many packages, try to find someone else who does. Ask local businesses or anyone else who sells online. Once these materials are wearing thin, make sure they are recycled so they can be remade into something new.
Nearly every packing material resembling paper (cardboard, tissue paper, newspaper) is recyclable nationwide, but depending on your location, you may run into trouble recycling Styrofoam, so check with your town or city before putting it out on the curb. If you don’t have luck with your municipal disposal, look for privately owned recycling companies nearby that offer more specialized options or send it to EPS Industry Alliance for mail-back recycling!
Most importantly, remember the old adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Investing in high quality, classic items will prevent you from having to replace them as often. This will, in turn, create far less waste and fewer used-up resources. Sure, some of these suggestions may mean higher-priced items, but you truly do get what you pay for. Fortunately, it’s possible when shopping online to maintain the ideals you hold yourself to when shopping in-person.
Every time you buy something, you are sending a message. You are voting with your dollars. Who and what will you vote for?