In the world of 2 day and overnight shipping it can be hard to say goodbye to these non eco-friendly practices. This guide makes it easier to find out how to sustainably shop online.
Online shopping is part of everyday life; something we don’t even think twice about. But what do you know about sustainable online shopping?
Frustrated with the lack of sustainable online shopping options, our founders started the Zero Waste Store to create a place where they could connect people to zero waste products and brands, through a company that also cares about the environment.
3 years later The Zero Waste Store is a 1% for the Planet member, has carbon neutral shipping, and has donated over $15,000 to charities that help our planet, all plastic free!
But this isn’t about us!
We want to give you the resources to do your own online sustainable shopping and look for the right companies. Here’s how!
Be Aware of Greenwashing
First of all, when trying to do some sustainable online shopping, be on the lookout for Greenwashing. A phrase coined in the 1980’s about corporations who falsely position themselves as eco-friendly or sustainable.
In the late 1980’s, Chevron launched an advertising campaign that involved lots of cute and cuddly animals under the protection of Chevron employees, basically showcasing what an asset Chevron was to the environment.
Not long after, critics were quick to point out that these ‘environmental programs’ were actually legal necessities that barely made a dent in their finances. The butterfly preserve they were advertising cost them $5,000 annually to run but the campaign to tell the world that they ran it, cost millions.
In response to consumer demand for more eco-friendly products and practices, some companies responded and made the changes, while others, like Chevron, focused on deception tactics like greenwashing.
Do Your Research
Research is so important because as we learned from Chevron, the way a company positions themselves might not be the practices they’re following. You need to do your research and find out if they are truly practicing what they preach.
Without knowing your ‘why’ behind your sustainable journey, it can be difficult to know what to research. Read on for practices that sustainable companies participate in and are transparent about that will almost guarantee a sustainable online shopping experience.
What Do I Look For To Sustainably Shop Online?
150 million metric tons of plastic circulate the ocean, and 8 million tons are added each year.
While it would be nice to completely do away with plastic packaging, there are some cases where plastic packaging is unavoidable. But there are also plenty of opportunities to replace plastic with recyclable, compostable, and/or biodegradable materials (like most of our partners).
Shipping plays a big role in online sustainable shopping. Getting something 24-48 hours after purchasing is pretty cool. But the emissions that come along with that aren’t very cool. Look for companies that can offer some of the following:
- Local — The farther your package has to go, the more emissions it probably creates.
- Opt for ground shipping over air
- Wait a few extra days for your package — to allow for ground shipping and efficiently packed trucks.
- Purchase in bulk — This helps save on emissions, packaging materials, and creates more efficient transportation.
- Use the comment section — Many companies have a space for comments/notes. Try requesting used packaging and less containers/stuffing.
- Carbon neutral shipping or carbon offsets — This is done by donating to forest conservation efforts based on the estimated emissions per shipped item.
Shipping carbon neutral is not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction. If a company offers carbon neutral shipping or carbon offsets, do a bit more research to ensure they participate in other ways to reduce their environmental impact.
Carbon Emissions & Energy
In addition to carbon neutral shipping, these are a few other ways companies can help reduce their carbon emissions even further.
- Investing in renewable energy such as solar and wind — Blue Heron Botanicals is completely off the grid and uses only solar power to run their organization.
- Smarter lighting — use energy efficient lighting and bulbs wherever possible and use as much natural sunlight as possible.
- Minimize Waste — This can be done in many places throughout the supply chain. From packaging, food waste, recycling, reusing products, to reusing and repurposing production scraps.
- Water usage & waste — Water is essential not only to human life, but to production. It’s used, and wasted, in almost every industry and there are ways that can be reduced. Companies like Reformation have made an effort to use less water, source less water intensive fabrics, and partner with water restoration organizations.
Labor & Benefits
If a company uses people at any point of the supply chain, they should be taking care of and protecting those people.
Companies like prAna and Pact work with Fair Trade Certified factories which ensures employees are earning a livable wage, have physically and mentally stable working conditions, and have the voice and power to uplift their communities.
There are a lot of steps that go into making a product that many of us are completely unaware of. When looking for ways to sustainably shop online, start with production materials.
- Animal Care — Vegan, cruelty-free, sustainably sourced. Look for companies that protect animals and their habitats, sustainably source animal products or byproducts, and do not test on animals.
- Sustainable Materials — Synthetic products use a lot of chemicals to make and contribute to microplastic pollution when they’re washed and thrown away. Look for companies that use regenerative and sustainable farming methods as well as organic, and natural fabrics. Christy Dawn, Patagonia, & Wolven are great examples.
- End of Life — When we’ve finished with a product or it breaks, we toss it into a landfill without a second thought as to how long they’ll take to decompose, if ever. Look for companies that have an end of life plan and can help recycle your products such as Rothys & Stasher.
This is a small part of online sustainable shopping and obviously you shouldn’t base your entire purchase on where a company donates, however, knowing what a company does with their profits can tell you a lot.
- 1% for the Planet — 1% for the Planet members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to environmental causes.
- Certified B Corp — A company that is a ‘B Corp’ is a for-profit company that has been given a certification of positive social, environmental, and all around impact.
- Other donations — Companies often publish reports of their charitable donations, or you can look on their website to see what organizations they continuously support. Like our page here!
You can also sign up for mailing lists to receive discounts and shop specific days where you know your purchase will be contributing to a good cause.
Write To Your Favorite Companies
This one is less about sustainable online shopping but when was the last time you saw a company or brand say “we heard you, we’re making changes”? Probably yesterday.
Write/email/call your favorite companies, and local representatives, and let them know you’d like to see change. It can be something as small as a phone call, email, or letter, such as this one, letting them know you want to see them do more.
There are plenty of resources, both public and free, that can help you find the contact information of people in positions of power or put it in the reviews/comment section.
There is no perfect example of how to sustainably shop online and there is no company that does it all. But what matters is that you care and there are plenty of companies out there who also care. It’s all about research and putting your dollars where your values are. Happy Shopping!