4 Tenants of Sustainable Home Shopping (And where to do it in Denver!)
Sustainability at home means so much more than composting and recycling.
Actually, a significant portion of our ecological footprint is determined by what we *bring in* to our homes. And with shopping being not only an accepted necessity of American life, but also a pastime and social activity, it’s about time we begin to incorporate a few basic elements of sustainable mindfulness into our consumer routines:
1. Less is more. Ok, this one is unavoidable. It’s the smart-aleck sister of the group, who — as much as you hate her — is always right. Shopping less means lower impact. And while the drawback is being less — you know — cool, valid, relevant (heavy doses of sarcasm here), there are some surprising upsides to owning less. Like: less to tidy, dust and maintain. Fewer choices (of clothing, for example) to feel overwhelmed by and a more minimal, serene space to enjoy. Try asking yourself, “Do I have something like it already?”, “Where will this be in 5 years?" and “Will it add to my happiness?”
2. Where did it come from? Further shipping distance = higher CO2 emissions, but also the further away a product’s source, the less we tend to know about *how* it was made and by who (see #4).
3. What is it made of? Materiality is key. Natural materials (cotton, hemp, linen, rubber, metals, glass, bamboo, cork and wood, to name a few) are oftentimes compostable, biodegradable — or in the case of metal and glass — easily recyclable. Avoid products made of difficult-to-separate bonded materials, such as enameled metal or rubberized leather which render the underlying natural material un-recyclable or even toxic. Keep in mind that synthetic materials often shed or leech toxins into their surroundings (your home, your body, and at end of life, the soils and water nearby landfills)
4. Who made it? Is it really sustainable if it utilizes antiquated labor practices that exploit workers (or even children)? How long do we want to keep up a cycle of unjust standards while enduring the very real consequences to our humanity? In the wise, wise words of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” As we're coming to understand the ugly truths behind the manufacturing world, it is our collective responsibility to take a stand for fairness. “Ethically made”, “fair labor” and “fair trade” are good clues towards consciously-made goods, but a quick google search of any company’s labor practices can be even more illuminating.
4. Where is it headed? Where is this product going after your time using it is up? Can it be re-purposed in your home? Is it recyclable? (glass, aluminum, paper) Or biodegradable? (materials that break down into smaller bits over time without contaminating the environment) Or maybe even compostable? (materials that fully decay into new, nutrient-rich compounds that can be put to work improving soil quality) Or like most of our species’ waste, is it destined for landfills or the ocean?
The real beauty of understanding and practicing these principles isn’t the most obvious benefit of making very small, incremental impacts to the betterment of our treatment of the planet, but actually, ACTUALLY the biggest and most beautiful reason to shop sustainably is explained in a concept called “Dollar voting”, which is the practice of using our consumer decisions to voice our preferences to brands and manufacturers all over the world who are forever eager to please. When you use your dollars to buy sustainably and ethically-made products, you cast your vote for a cleaner, more harmonious future, and the market listens.
We’re not going to be perfect, but we can keep working towards better. I encourage you play with these ideas and to find your own unique way forward.
Here’s to a harmonious future,
For those living in the Denver area, you’ll be happy to know there’s a plethora of great sustainable shops in and around the city. Check these out for inspiration or for your next shopping trip!