Conscious Consumption – Sustainable alternatives to Amazon around the world for 2021

Guest contributor: Alicia Lee – in collaboration with heyImpact

With the impact of Covid, online shopping is more popular than ever, allowing us to purchase essential supplies and countless other goods without having to leave the safety and comfort of our homes. However, the convenience of online shopping is a double-edged sword that also contributes to environmental damage and climate change. In part 1 of this article, we give you some more background on the environmental impact of our current consumption patterns, in part 2 we look at alternative models for conscious consumption, and in part 3 we give you concrete tips on where to find more sustainable shopping alternatives all around the world.

Part 1 – The environmental impact of consumption

Part 2 – How to be a more conscious consumer

Part 3 – Where to find more sustainable shopping alternatives

Prefer listening? Check out Episode 20: Conscious Consumption of the How to Make a Difference podcast.

Part 1 – The environmental impact of consumption

According to the Carbon Footprint Calculator of the Umweltbundesamt (Federal Environment Agency in Germany) 30% of our carbon footprint comes down to consumption. And that does not include things like fuel, electricity, or food – in the most simple terms, it refers to all the “stuff” we buy.

Furthermore, we currently consume resources 50% faster than they can be replenished, which means that, at the current rate of consumption, we will need more than 2 Earths’ worth of natural resources by 2030 and about 3 Earths’ worth of natural resources by 20501. An iPhone 6, for example, requires 34 kg of ore and 99.8 kg of water to produce and emits 95kg of CO2, 85% of which comes from its manufacturing2,3. Additionally, sourcing certain resources may also have human rights implications.

We often overlook another aspect of the product lifecycle that contributes to its environmental footprint: shipping. The transport of items requires energy and inevitably produces emissions, and increasing demand for expedited shipping gives companies less time and flexibility to consolidate their shipments. This has led to a trend of having several individualized shipments, with environmental consequences: One study found that having less than 6 stops on a delivery trip negates the emissions advantage of consolidated shipping, and having one delivery per trip can result in up to 35x carbon emissions compared to consolidated shipping4.

Packaging is yet another contributor to a product’s environmental footprint. In 2017, packaging, containers, and durable goods made up 51% of municipal solid waste (MSW) in the US5. Plastic packaging, in particular, has become especially prevalent – as of 2007, plastic packaging was used to package 50% of all goods6, and 47% of the 300 million tons of plastic waste generated globally in 2015 was due to plastic packaging7. At the current rate of growth, the plastics sector is projected to account for 20% of total oil consumption and 15% of the global annual carbon budget by 20508.

All this consumption has led to a correspondingly dramatic increase in global waste generation. Total annual MSW generation in the US increased by 77% from 1980 to 2017, and per capita, MSW generation in the US increased by 23% from 1.68 to 2.04 kg per person per day. As of 2017, MSW generation rates (in kg/person/day) are 1.22 in Sweden, 1.68 in Germany, and 1.27 in the UK5. Global waste generation is predicted to rise by an additional 70% by 20251.

Here’s why all this waste is a problem: Although some materials can be recycled quite efficiently, others have poor recycling rates. Only 9% of all plastic waste ever produced, for example, has been recycled7. Non-recyclable waste is often incinerated, generating various pollutants (ex. CO2, heavy metals, dioxins, particulates) that impact climate change and human health, as well as residual ash. This residual ash, along with the majority of MSW, is disposed of in landfills, which may leach hazardous materials to groundwater. To make things worse, landfills were the third-largest source of anthropogenic CH4 emissions in the US in 2018, accounting for 111 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent emissions (about 1.7% of total GHG emissions)5.

Part 2 – How to be a more conscious consumer

So now that we know that our consumption habits are unsustainable, how can we become more conscious consumers? With a dizzying array of options and information available to us, it can feel challenging to even figure out where to begin, let alone determine how we can most effectively make an impact with our choices. Fortunately, we can draw from the circular economy butterfly, which is a framework that aims to decouple economic activity from the consumption of finite resources and to design waste out of the system. If you would like to learn more about the circular economy, please check out Episode 20 of the How to Make a Difference podcast, where we interview two circular economy experts: Catherine Weetman and Erin Andrews.

The most obvious solution: buy less. One of the most effective ways to ensure sustainable consumption is to reduce unnecessary consumption in the first place. Using our phones one year longer on average, for example, is estimated to reduce emissions by the same amount as removing 636,000 cars from the road and reduce manufacturing material demand by 42.5 million pounds per day (19.3 million kg), which is the equivalent of cutting a jumbo jet’s weight in raw material use every 17 minutes2. You can learn about reducing consumption, by listening to Episode 21: How to be Zero Waste of the How to Make a Difference podcast.

Consider whether you can repurpose or recycle things that you already have at home. Websites such as fixitclub, doityourself, and ifixit provide guidance on how to repair items ranging from electronics to plumbing to apparel, and countless tutorials are available on YouTube. If you don’t feel comfortable or lack the equipment to perform certain repairs, perhaps you can hire a professional instead. These repairs can extend the lifespan of a well-loved item while reducing the material drain and pollution needed to manufacture something new. However, this option may not always be for everyone.

Sometimes, making a purchase can’t be avoided, and that’s okay. One of the easiest ways to shop more sustainably is to buy secondhand or refurbished items that are often still highly functional while also saving costs. Less production of new stuff, less waste, less cost. What’s not to love? In Episode 22: Ambar – New Life for Your Closet of the How to Make a Difference podcast, we also explore models like rental and interview the founder of a fascinating startup within the rental space.

If you do decide that buying new is the best choice for you, then consider buying local and buying from brands that implement sustainable practices, such as organic, fair-trade, zero waste, carbon-neutral, and other initiatives. Although it is almost impossible to find products that fulfil all these criteria, satisfying just one of these criteria will already allow you to start making an impact. We’ve included a list of shops below that do a pretty good job at curating sustainable products; purchasing from these shops is a great place to start. Additionally, purchasing efficiently packaged products can help minimize the volume of required packing material, and selecting standard shipping instead of expedited delivery can help further reduce your environmental impact.

Buying ethically sourced or fairtrade items is one potential way to prioritize environmental protection in your consumption choices. Fairtrade standards do not only ensure fair wages, they also prohibit the use of certain agrochemicals, forbid cutting down protected forests, and seek to build awareness amongst local farmers about environmental issues and more sustainable farming practices9. However, no standard is perfect, and it may be worth noting some critiques of Fairtrade as well.

Buying organic may also help reduce raw material requirements and environmental damage during the manufacturing process. Compared to conventional cotton, organic cotton is estimated to be 46% less harmful to global warming, produce 70% less acidification in land and water, have 26% less potential for soil erosion, require 91% less usage in groundwater and surface water, and use up to 62% less energy3. Organic does have some limitations, however, which you can read more about in this article by the Sourcing Journal. 

Curious what a sustainable online shop looks like behind the scenes? In Episode 23 of the How to Make a Difference podcast, we speak with the co-founder of Beeanco, a sustainable online marketplace, to understand how products are selected for their marketplace.

Part 3 – Where to find more sustainable shopping alternatives

Here is your call to action: Save the repair guides, the second-hand platforms and the online shops of your country in your bookmarks. Next time you need to buy something, why not check out one of those links to see if you can repair the object you already have if there are second-hand options available, or if you can find what you need from a sustainable shop. And if you do decide to shop on any of the platforms/websites that we recommended, please let us know! We’d love to hear your feedback about your overall experience.

Is your country not listed? Did we overlook a cool one-stop-shop platform? Please write to us and let us know!

Worldwide

Repair Guides

Second Hand Shops/Platforms – Remember to search for used rather than new items

America

United States

  • Wonderful Things
    • Fashion
    • Beauty and Care
    • Home
    • Ships via Amazon
  • Buy Me Once
    • Focus on the longevity of items
    • Sells almost everything 
  • Earth Hero
    • Clothing & Accessories
    • Home
    • Outdoors
    • Tech
    • Pets
    • Beauty and Care
    • Kids
  • Done Good
    • Clothing 
    • Food & drinks
    • Self Care 
    • Accesories
    • Kids
    • Home
  • Wardrobe
    • Rental of clothes, Bags and Shoes for 4 days each

Europe

Europe-wide

Austria

  • Beeanco (Check out In Episode 23 of the How to Make a Difference podcast, for an interview with Marcus Rosenberger, the co-founder of Beeanco)
    • Baby & Toys
    • Food & Drink
    • Fashion & Accessories
    • Wellness & Hygiene
    • Services

Germany

  • Avocado Store – Germany’s biggest marketplace for sustainable and ethical products
    • Fashion: everything from underwear to jackets, from shoes to sportswear, from swimwear to maternity wear
    • Beauty & Care: natural cosmetics, body care and more
    • Home & kitchen: homeware, pet supplies, Garden & Outdoor, even furniture
    • Food & Drink: durable goods like snacks, chocolate, tea or coffee
    • Office & Technology: office supplies from pens to pc accessories, even selected smartphones
  • Beeanco (Check out In Episode 23 of the How to Make a Difference podcast, for an interview with Marcus Rosenberger, the co-founder of Beeanco)
    • Baby & Toys
    • Food & Drink
    • Fashion & Accessories
    • Wellness & Hygiene
    • Services
  • Gover
    • Electronics rental in Germany

United Kingdom

  • Ethical Market
    • Fashion
    • Home
    • Beauty and Care
    • Kids
    • Stationary
  • Plastic Freedom
    • Fashion: few items – for a broader selection go to Oxfam (see below)
    • Beauty and care: natural cosmetics, body care and more
    • Home & kitchen: homeware and pet supplies
    • Food & Drink: durable goods like snacks, chocolate, tea or coffee
    • Office: selected office supplies
  • Oxfam UK
    • Broad collection of second-hand clothes, shoes and jewellery
  • Restart Project
    • Encourages community repair of electronics

Switzerland

  • Idun Loor
    • Some clothing (not so much for men)
    • Jewellery
    • Home
    • Beauty

Resources:

1) https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/tie.21968

2) https://uspirg.org/feature/usp/fix

3) https://www.apple.com/euro/environment/pdf/a/generic/products/archive/2014/iPhone6_PER_sept2014.pdf

4) https://sfreight.ucdavis.edu/evaluating-environmental-impacts-online-shopping-behavioral-and-transportation-approach-0

5) https://www.sustainabilitymadeeasier.com/homepage/action-15-repair

6) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229796182_The_Environmental_Impacts_of_Packaging

7) https://www.unenvironment.org/resources/report/single-use-plastics-roadmap-sustainability

8) http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf

9) https://www.fairtrade.net/issue/environment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *