How To Start Shopping Sustainably

I read an article that said 'every penny you spend is like a voting slip' and I haven't been able to stop thinking about that. Honestly, I'm embarrassed to be so delayed in becoming conscious of how important my shopping choices are, especially because I've spent the last several years claiming to be passionate about human rights and anti-slavery. I'll level with you that it's only this year, 2016, that I first started paying attention to how (and where) I shop. But, fresh from my naivety, I think I'm in a great position to journal what I'm learning about ethical shopping and sustainable living as I clumsily teach myself what on earth this looks like. Follow along with me if you're interested too.


After feeling convicted to care about where I shop, I've found it quite a gradual process to nurture that care into passion, then letting that passion influence how I shop. If I may, I'd like to share some advice from my own experience.

  1. Shop slowly. For weeks after I'd resolved to start reading food labels I'd get home and realise I'd forgotten to do it. I was so in the habit of blitzing through a shop, grabbing what I needed or what looked familiar before quickly heading home. I have had to be intentional to break that habit, re-teaching myself to not be in such a rush when I buy things so that I have the time to read labels. This helps me notice things like if a product was made/grown in Britain, or if the manufacturer invests in sustainability (like by regrowing trees for toilet roll), or if a product has palm oil in it, or if it is Fairtrade (where the producer receives a fair and living wage).
  2. Cheap isn't best. Honestly, this lesson has been so stubborn to iron out! I think there is something deeply imbedded in my English culture that tells me I need to save money where I can. I've noticed so many people, myself included, who let price dictate where they shop and what they buy. Particularly with food, I'm not too fussy so price would be my go-to decision maker when choosing a product. It has taken me 25 years to realise that price doesn't need to be lord. Instead of desperately saving the odd pound, I'd rather give my money to businesses that are making effort to be responsible and, even better, do some good through what they do. 
  3. Realise that there are heaps of Fairtrade options. I think one of the reasons it took me so long to begin spending intentionally (wisely?) was because I thought that Fairtrade choices were really sparse. I thought that ethical clothing posed even fewer options. Actually, I was so wrong. There are plenty of innovative clothing brands that are Fairtrade, organic, sustainable and the stuff I'd want to wear. Too, Fairtrade is a world of options: furniture, bedding, gifts, clothing, accessories, diamonds, hiking gear, hammocks, bikes, tea, coffee, food, you name it.
  4. Read the labels. The Fairtrade logo is a great one to look out for, in fact if I'm choosing between two food items I'll let that logo dictate what I buy (rather than the price). A good piece of advice I received though was to not solely go off that label. There are small businesses that strive to meet fair standards but haven't been able to afford to go through the process of becoming Fairtrade recognised. These brands will usually have a different logo or statement to explain that they are fair or that they are intentionally sustainable. Look out for those too.
  5. Decide what's important to you. The term 'ethical shopping' is a broad one that covers a heap of expressions. Do you care about people (receiving a living wage, human rights and safe working conditions), the environment (pollution, nuclear power and climate change), animals (factory farming and animal testing) or product sustainability (organic and sustainable products)? I think it'd be ideal to care about all these things, but to me that sounds like a full-on place to start, so I suggest starting with deciding something that makes you passionate/makes you tick. For me (at the moment) it's all about how the employers are treated and avoiding contributing to plastic pollution. Decide on what you want to be a part of and let that influence how you spend.
  6. Keep note of ethical/sustainable stores. Whilst there are heaps more ethical shopping options than I thought, I'd say those options are still massively outshadowed by the highstreet and bigger businesses. If you hear of a place to shop responsibly (either a store or online), take note of it. I keep a tab on my laptop of about thirty sites that are Fairtrade stores. I try and talk about it when I can and pick up suggestions and pointers from other people. The reason I keep note is so that I can point other people to these stores too - we need to share the love and help each other find innovative businesses that are impressively creative in making money, creating jobs and doing good. (I'm working on a blog post sharing my favourite ethical sites, watch this space...).