As a maker and small business owner, I’m extremely aware of the impact that my buying decisions have on the immediate (and not so immediate) environment around me. It’s not just about the environment though, it’s also about other people, their lifestyle, livelihoods and sustainable practises.
Each product that we buy has some sort of footprint or consequence, depending upon a variety of factors; including how it’s made, who made it, where it was made, what it’s made from, how it’s packaged, how long it will last, just to name a few!
I’ve been re-watching ‘The Good Place’ recently (I’d recommend it for some easy going entertainment, if you haven’t watched it then there’s a spoiler alert coming—you’ve been warned!) and it really gets you thinking about our actions on Earth.
There’s a specific scene where they’re explaining to the judge that, “Just buying a tomato at a grocery store means that you are unwittingly supporting toxic pesticides, exploiting labor, contributing to global warming. Humans think that they’re making one choice, but they’re actually making dozens of choices they don’t even know they’re making!”. It’s so true right?
Without being more educated about the impact our choices actually have on others and the world around us, how are we to know? But who’s going to educate you? This requires companies being transparent about their entire process…which I bet many would be reluctant to share!
I have to admit, this is a challenge, it’s one I aspire to rise to. I’m currently working on some things behind the scenes to share on my website in order to be more transparent about my own processes. There’s a lot to think about and making a lot of changes at once is an overwhelming thought, however, I’ve set myself a challenge to research and make one change per month. This, no doubt, will be an ongoing task, and the current challenges I face is getting my suppliers to be more open and transparent about their processes. Working with smaller, local businesses has definitely helped in this aspect, and building relationships with the people that work there is a great way to keep the conversation going.
How can you shop more mindfully?
I have a few simple questions you can ask yourself before making a purchase. It’s important to pause and think before you make the purchase, sometimes our impulses get the better of us. I’ve found if I’ve been shopping online and added things to my basket, I’ll review the basket afterwards, deleting anything based on this set of questions below. I’ll then let the basket sit there for about 2 weeks and usually discover that the impulse to buy it has gone, or I simply don’t need or like those items at this current moment in time.
Questions to ask to help shop more mindfully.
Here’s my set of questions I use when making a purchase, not all of them will be relevant. It depends what item it is you’re considering to buy, but this set of questions can help get you thinking about shopping more mindfully. If you’re buying a gift, it’s a great idea to ask these in relation to the person you’re buying it for.
- Do I really need it?
Really think about this one. How many tops do you own in the same style but a different colour? How many of these do you actually really wear?
- Is this useful/practical?
There’s only so much use an item may have, if you have 3 pairs of winter boots in great condition do you need another? Will this be a thing to look at sitting about or is it a functioning object?
- Do I really love it?
Is it something that you’ll continue to love, enjoy using/wearing and bring you joy everyday you do?
- Who made it?
Do you know who’s hands actually made it? Are they paid a fair wage? Are they exploited? Do some more research if you can.
- Where was it made?
Is it made locally? Or was it flown over from another country on the other side of the world? That’s a large carbon footprint. If your local shop sells things made by others, can they provide more information on this?
- How was it made?
What processes were used to make it? How much energy did this use? Were there any harmful chemicals in this process? How are they disposed of safely?
- What materials is it made from? Is it recycled/eco friendly/organic?
Think about how these materials may be sourced and the labour involved or impact on the environment.
- Can it be recycled/reused afterwards?
We all buy things that we no longer have a use for or may not fit anymore, is there a way to recycle it or give it another lease of life afterwards?
- Is the packaging made from recycled materials and can it be recycled/composted after?
How much single use plastic does the packaging contain? Think about all those toiletries and food packages out there. It’s best to buy items that use little or no plastic packaging at all.
- How long will it last?
This comes down to a lot of factors already mentioned including materials, processes and who made it. Usually the price point can give you an indication, you do usually get what you pay for. I’m very wary of hugely discounted items. If something retailed at £50 and is now reduced to £25, that company still has a profit margin in that. Now think about the actual costs deducted; raw materials, accessories, packaging, labels, shipping, overheads. There certainly won’t be much left to pay the person that made it.
That’s a lot to be mindful of, can it be more simple?
That seems like a lot of questions, I know, but there are a lot of factors to think about when making a purchase. It’s hard to find all the answers to the questions above, don’t beat yourself up over it. There are challenges and we all need to collectively make a difference. Just the fact that you’re even giving more thought and consideration to any future purchases you make is a great step! My advice is to take smaller steps to make simple changes, it’ll become easier. We do need to speak up though, and start asking these questions in order to create positive changes within different industries.
I’ll leave you with a final quote from ‘The Good Place’ to conclude:
“What matters isn’t if people are good or bad. What matters is if they’re trying to be better today than they were yesterday. You asked me where my hope comes from. That’s your answer.”Michael, The Good Place, 4×06
Have you found this article useful? Let me know in the comments!