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Tune your shopping radar to the environment

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Become aware of the environmental implications of your consumption and purchase those goods that have the least impact on our future.

Understanding the resources embedded in the products we buy and using this knowledge to guide our purchasing decisions is difficult. Advertising is a powerful influence on our purchasing decisions and there is often little information available about the energy, water and other environmental inputs required to produce the things we buy. If we are able to overcome these barriers with a bit of will-power and research, we will be better at purchasing products and services that are more aligned to the environment. Not surprisingly, moving from the heavily advertised (and high energy and water) product lines will often save you money. It's like being paid to have greater peace of mind!

How to do it now!

In the absence of standardised product labelling that explains the environmental inputs to the products we consume, we need to apply a common-sense check list to everything we buy. The following environmental shopping filters are a broad guide to some basic rules that will help us select products with minimal environmental impacts.

  1. Use the Ethical Shopping Guide. The Ethical Consumer Guide gives you the low-down on the environmental and social record of companies behind common brand names. Shop at the supermarket with a clear conscience! The guide is also available as an iPhone app.
  2. Buy locally produced products. All things being equal, buying local goods eliminates the tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions required to transport the goods. See our Buy Local & Seasonal Food action.
  3. Buy high water products from countries with abundant water. Buy rice and cotton from countries with abundant water (e.g. the Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia) instead of buying them from dryer nations (e.g. Australia). See our Buy Fairtrade Food & Products action.
  4. Buy efficient products. When purchasing products that have ongoing operational costs (i.e. energy, paper, water) ensure the product is the most efficient of its class. See our Install Efficient Appliances and Fixtures action.
  5. Buy recycled products. Recycled products efficiently reuse materials that would otherwise be buried or burnt. See our Purchase Recycled Goods action.
  6. Seek products with pro-environmental labels and certification. The following labelling programs exist to aid selection of products on the basis of their efficiency and their environmental and social impact:
    • Wood and Paper. The Forest Stewardship Council certifies and labels wood products that are harvested sustainably. See our Buy Paper and Wood Responsibly action.
    • Coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, sugar etc. Fairtrade certifies and labels products that are sourced from developing world producers in a way that protects them from the effects of globalisation (i.e. poverty and the resulting decline of the environment). See our Buy Fairtrade Food & Products action.
    • Good Environmental Choice Label
  7. Avoid products with excessive packaging. Consider the whole product, including the packaging, when evaluating its environmental impact. Can the package be recycled? Is it necessary? See our Avoid Products with Excessive Packaging action.
  8. Avoid consuming endangered animals. Everyday we consume tonnes of endangered fish. See our Avoid Eating Endangered Fish action.
  9. Avoid toxic cleaners. The introduction of toxic products into the home or office is bad for your health and bad for the environment. See our Use Non-Toxic Cleaners action.
  10. Buy hydroponics. The use of hydroponics (and glasshouses) results in a significant increase in edible food volume per litre of water, uses less chemicals (no herbicides and little if any insecticides) and has a smaller footprint, no run-off of chemicals to ground water or streams, uses less carbon based fuels per kg of product than field crops and creates more employment. Glasshouses can actually reduce food miles by enabling crops to be grown for longer seasons within local areas.

Why is this action important?

When we climb a mountain, we approach it one step at a time - otherwise it all seems too hard. This action outlines some small steps that help us apply our concern for the environment to every purchasing decision we make. In this way we can start to change our world.