Welcome to the future, where you can buy literally anything you want and have it arrive at your front door in 48 hours or less. For busy parents, this is a godsend. Last-minute birthday gift? Prime it. First day of school outfit? Prime it. Classroom goodie bags? Prime it. But as convenient as it is to Prime our lives away, this approach has a damaging dark side. When we choose the most convenient, most affordable option, you could be supporting unethical labor practices, wasteful manufacturing and pollution. But there are several online shopping solutions that are all-around better and just about as easy and convenient as shopping with the eCommerce giants out there. Here are some of our tips on how to shop consciously online.
Getting Conscious About Clothing
Unsurprisingly, more and more people are opting to outfit their families through online channels, with nearly 20 percent of fashion retail sales coming through the internet each year. When you’re shopping for clothing online, whether for yourself or your kids, keep the following tips in mind to ensure that you’re making the most conscious possible shopping decisions.
- Try to Cut Out Fast Fashion—Fast fashion is categorized as quickly-made, quickly-designed and rapidly-changing apparel produced by big-named retailers like Forever 21, H&M and Zara (i.e., many popular mall brands and department store brands). While not all fast fashion labels are unethical or eco-unfriendly, there is much less room for these issues when you shop boutique and independent brands online. Skip styles made from low-quality synthetic materials and do your best to avoid buying any apparel made in China, Bangladesh or Cambodia, where working conditions are poor.
- Know Your Brands—Try to switch to purchasing more American-made, fair trade and eco-friendly clothing for you and your kids. But how do you know which brands fit this criteria? There are a variety of organizations available that can help you find out whether or not a certain brand is ethical or eco-friendly, such as Rank a Brand. As a quick rule of thumb, eco-friendly clothing brands tend to use certified organic or recycled materials (especially cotton, wool and hemp) and may produce their goods in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, Germany, England or Scandinavia.
- Buy Second Hand—We all know that companies that prioritize eco-friendly manufacturing must compensate for higher-cost materials and labor with high price tags that may not be in (or anywhere near) your budget. But there’s good news! Buying second hand is an excellent way to buy consciously while keeping costs low. Buy eco-friendly kids’ clothing online at sites like Bagsy or switch to second-hand brand programs like Patagonia’s Worn Wear to find quality-made items on the cheap. When you purchase high-quality, sustainable clothes, you can also recoup some funds and earn karma by selling or donating them when you’re done.
Thinking Green for Household Goods
Clothing isn’t the only thing we buy online. In fact, these days, there’s just about no industry that’s off-limits, from groceries and cleaning supplies to furniture and large appliances. In addition, retail giants like Amazon are seeing major spikes in the pantry and grocery categories, with Amazon raking in an estimated 38 percent increase in pantry sales and 33 percent increase in grocery sales last year. Is there a way to hop on the household and pantry bandwagon consciously? Yes! Here’s how.
- Buy in Bulk—Ask lifelong conscious shoppers one of the simplest ways to cut waste and many of them will probably say to buy in bulk. If you tend to use up large quantities of household goods and grocery items, it’s probably worth your while to go online and look for bulk solutions. Buying bulk dried goods, paper products, coffee and canned goods can go a long way for the environment and your budget. You’d be surprised to learn some of the things you can buy in bulk for less.
- Forget the Brand—You’ve probably seen advertisements for companies like Brandless that promise to save you big bucks on everyday products that are the same or better quality as your day-to-day staples. The idea is that it’s easier to produce goods using transparent, sustainable manufacturing when you don’t have the markups associated with traditional brands. Make buying from companies that focus on ethical, eco-friendly practices more important than buying from certain stores or specific brands.
- Ship it to the Store—One of the problems with mass online shopping is that every order must be packaged and delivered individually, which can be incredibly wasteful in the grand scheme of things. One of the simplest things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint when shopping online is to have your goods shipped directly to the store. This way, your items arrive on a truck that would have gone there anyway and, depending on how the company handles packaging, they may help eliminate paper and cardboard waste.
- Give Back When You Shop—Wherever possible, do your best to buy from websites and brands that have some built-in philanthropic effort. If your primary retail resource is Amazon, be sure that you’re using AmazonSmile–a version of Amazon that gives back 0.5 percent of your purchase to the charitable organization of your choice—whenever you shop. Spend a little bit of time getting to know the core values of a given company before you decide to spend your dollars there.
Conscious Consumers Can Still Shop Online
Let’s face it: There’s a zero percent chance any of us are going to give up online shopping anytime soon. In fact, we’re more likely to spend even more dollars online in the coming years on everything for our families, including clothing, toys and food. But that doesn’t mean all social and ethical responsibility goes out the window. Digital consumers can still be conscious consumers, so long as you know how and where to shop!