Shopping is an activity so ingrained into our society that we often do it thoughtlessly, automatically, or hurriedly. By paying more attention to how we shop and what we buy, however, we can make a difference for the planet. With that in mind, here are four tips about how to green your shopping habits.
1. Clothes: When it comes to buying clothes, the greenest - and often hippest - purchases are vintage. For great finds, shop at used-clothes boutiques, online stores, or at prominent antique shows like Massachusetts's Brimfield, New York's Manhattan Vintage, or California's Vintage Fashion Expo.
If you have to buy new, look for eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, hemp, or recycled anything. Buy classic styles (not trends!) so that your purchase doesn't, in a year, end up in the landfill. And make sure your choices are well-made and durable so they don't fall apart after only a few months of wear.
2. Food: Did you know that a third of households' total environmental impact is related to food and drink consumption? To help reduce the footprint of the foods you buy, there are a few things you can do when at the grocery store. First, avoid the deli, since more than a third of all U.S. fossil fuels go toward producing meat, and since animal agriculture is highly correlated with pollution and natural-resource depletion.
Also, be willing to shop in the organic section, since fewer pesticides and other polluting chemicals are used to produce the items sold there. Look, too, for where a product was produced, and when. Buying local and seasonal reduces the miles your food had to be shipped to get to your shopping cart. Examine whether what you're considering buying is overpackaged; if it is, leave it in the store as a statement of disapproval that'll hit corporations' bottom lines. Finally, bring your own reusable shopping bags to prevent disposable plastic or paper bags from ending up where they shouldn't.
3. Home: When we buy for our homes, we generally prioritize what will look, feel, or function best. But if we instead prioritized the environment, we wouldn't be in as deep a crisis as we're in. Check out Sierra Club Green Home for education and advice about greening every aspect of your home, from bedding to lighting to microwaves.
Think green when buying furniture too, by buying pieces that are vintage, made of certified wood or reclaimed materials, or locally made. When going for large appliances, opt for those with the Energy Star label.
4. Gifts: It's easy to be profligate when shopping for gifts. After all, we want to show the person for whom we're purchasing how much we care about them and that we wouldn't hold back when doing something nice for them. But in the long run, prodigal buying for those we love will hurt not only them, but us too, along with all of Earth's other living things.
So how to green your gift-giving? Well, say Mother's Day is coming up. Consider shopping online (thus saving the fuel emissions of driving to the mall) for a symbolic gift that will also help Mother Earth, like the Sierra Club's "Sponsor a Wild Place Gift," which, for $25, gets mom a certificate that lets her know that a wilderness spot is more protected because of her, plus a cuddly version of an endangered species. Another green benefit? You can skimp on the wrapping.