Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Making Sustainable Purchases

by Melinda Briana Epler, One Green Generation

I strive to be sustainable, because I don't think it's worth it to my self, my family, my culture, nor my world to be anything less. Sometimes the moment strikes and overpowers my senses and I want to forget my values, but at those moments I think of the past, the present, and the future.

As beings on this planet we have a role, and that role is not to destroy everything. As beings in a family we have a role, and that role is not to leave one another in more debt that we can overcome. As an individual living my own life I have a role, and that role is not to work myself into poor health or to live a life unsatisfied.

For me, sustainability is an all-encompassing term that includes:
  1. Economic Sustainability
  2. Socio-Cultural Sustainability
  3. Personal Sustainability
  4. Environmental Sustainability
It's about lifestyle, it's about life choices, and it's about the past, present, and future. It's not something you can throw out of your life when it's inconvenient, it's something that sticks with you through every decision you make throughout the day.

Purchasing decisions are just one part of the sustainability lifestyle, but they're an important part. When we purchase things, those things come from somewhere and someone - probably a whole lot of someones - got all the materials together, made it (or grew it), transported it, stored it, transported it again, displayed it, and then sold it to you. And when we purchase that item, we are purchasing all that product's history and sustainability (or lack thereof). That makes us responsible.

So how do we make sustainable purchases? Here are the rules in our house - we follow these in order, more or less:
  1. Do you Really Need it? Do you need it at all, or is it something you could live without? Can you reuse or repurpose something you already have? Maybe you have an old one in the garage that could be fixed up nicely (with the bonus of adding a repurposed/reused charm)? Or can you borrow it from a neighbor, friend or family, or even make it yourself? Also while we all need food, starting a garden will mitigate what you have to buy - you can grow vegetables year round. Plus when you start that garden, don’t buy seedlings - grow them from seed, and then save your own seeds for next year!
  2. Buy it (or Barter it) Used. There is no need to bring more stuff into this world if we don't have to. So whenever possible, we buy from used bookstores and clothing stores, thrift stores, antique stores, libraries, etc. Even better, barter and borrow with your friends and networks.
  3. Buy Locally. Drive as little as possible to get the item, and buy it from a locally-owned and -operated business. It’s even better if the business makes the products locally, or has a local source for them.
  4. Buy Fair Trade & Fair Wage. Buy the item from a manufacturer that pays its workers an honest wage. AND buy from a business with good business practices. If you have a choice, go for the business that gives back to the community, pays its workers well and gives them health insurance, and has good customer service. You may even find a business that has been built with sustainable building practices, and has taken steps to reduce its daily carbon impact.
  5. Buy Green. This means different things to different people, but essentially, minimize the impact the item has on the environment, including the materials used to produce and package it. That includes recycled, reused, organic, biodynamic, etc.
  6. Buy it to Last. Think twice about going cheap and easy. It’s no good for your pocketbook or the environment if you have to throw away an item when it breaks or looks ugly in a year or two, and then you have to buy another one. Instead, buy something that will last 5, 10 years - or better, a lifetime. For furniture, look at used furniture and antiques - what you find may cost the same as an item from IKEA, and it will last long enough to hand it down to your kids or your friends or someone in need. If you can’t afford good quality, wait a few months and save up to buy a good quality product that will last. In the long run, it will cost less in time, money, and environmental impact.
Remember: Cost includes the amount of money you pay for an item, as well as what the environment and society pay for that item.

What About You?

Do you make sustainable purchases? What rules does your family use when making purchases? Will you consider adding some of these other components?