Shop until we all drop?

Our green guru John Cossham explains how excessive consumption is ruining the planet

Our extravagant consumption patterns aren’t just down to powering our houses, driving and flying. They are a lot to do with how much we shop, and what we choose to buy. In short, “retail therapy” is killing the planet.

Our love of imported goods, cheap food, too much meat, andfollowing fashions is causing real problems.

It is important to remember, then, that life is still enjoyable with a more ethical approach perhaps more so as there’s a feeling of “doing the right thing”. Buying less doesn’t equate with being less happy. So, before we buy, we need to ask ourselves “do I need that, or just want it?”.

I’m not arguing that we should stop shopping. But ethical purchasing does involve quite a number of possibilities. Buying from locally owned businesses means that profits stay local, and fairly-traded goods mean that more of our wealth is shared with the producers. Organic products use fewer fertilisers and pesticides, and are better for biodiversity.

Going to a farmers’ market means you can buy direct from the producers – although if they are only accessible by car, some of the benefits are offset.

Shopping at a co-operative is more ethical, as they often stock lots of fair-trade items and members get a discount or a dividend with money back or money-off vouchers, as well as a say in its running.

My favourite places to shop are charity and second-hand shops, as buying much of what’s on sale is recycling and your money helps the charity a win-win situation.

The types of goods you buy also matters. Do they have recycled content or just virgin materials? Is it renewable wood or plastic/PVC? (You should at least aim for Forest Stewardship Council timber products.)

If you eat meat, you’re making a much bigger eco-footprint than if you’re a vegetarian or vegan. Is your product in lots of packaging that can’t be recycled, or can you compost the paper and cardboard?

Certainly, there is no shortage of ways to shop more ethically. 

John Cossham is Community Care’s ethical living expert.

Read his blog 


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