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Shopping to Support the Environment

By Tara Alley
February 22, 2011
File under: Shopping, Waste Reduction


Typically, the word “shopping” brings to mind hard-core consumerism, women strolling strip malls with arms loaded full of boxes and bags, wallets that grow lighter and lighter and carbon footprints that sink deeper and deeper.

But, for those of us interested in a sustainable lifestyle, there are actually ways in which shopping (as inevitable as it is on at least the basic levels) can be done in an eco-friendly manner. Even better, it’s often cheaper.

So, first off, where does one shop?

There’s been a lot of controversy lately about which is better for the environment: online vs. local. While many claim that the individualized packaging and shipping connected to online shopping outweighs the positive effects of staying home and not driving to the store, I’d say there’s stronger information to affirm that online shopping is a step ahead in terms of being more eco-friendly.

In case you need some convincing, here are some of the top benefits to online shopping, as well as some recommended sites to visit.

Reduced Emissions

The obvious benefit of reduced emissions from not driving or using gas is the most obvious benefit to online shopping. But, remember, it still takes a truck to deliver your online ordered items, so the ultimate green way to go about delivering is to get multiple households in your neighborhood to order from the same place on the same days, ie: everyone orders from Green Shopper every Thursday. This would be the equivalent of multiple households carpooling to the store or, one truck coming to a neighborhood of 25, versus 25 cars driving to one store.

Additionally, consider the fact that when you order online, only the exact items that you order need to be shipped. On the other hand, a storefront must pay to ship huge quantities of items, even those that may never sell which may wind up being shipped back to the manufacturer a second time. Online shopping also cuts out much of the cost associated with staffing and running a store, which leads to lower prices and more money for consumers to put elsewhere into strengthening the economy.

More Eco-Friendly Options

Generally your options to eco-friendly and green products is much, much larger on the online market. Most stores simply cannot afford to stock a huge selection of environmentally-friendly products. Shopping online greatly multiples your options and your ability to put your money into businesses and manufacturers that are dedicated to sustaining the environment. So, not only do you have the ability to eat and use green items, your funding contributes to the growth of green businesses. Double win!

Less Wasted Perishables

If you can locate a local farmer, chances are good that your food will not be picked until you order it. This eliminates wasted produce that sits in grocery store shelves until it passes expiration and is thrown out. Plus, your food is guaranteed fresh, and minus a drowning of preservatives and toxins. Again, see if you can get your neighbors in on a local weekly delivery – the benefits will be multi-fold and the combined reduction in the carbon footprint of everyone will be astounding.

Money Saved

Because there are so many comparison shopping sites available now, it’s much, much easier to find good deals. The amount of money you can save by finding the lowest prices available, especially on large items, can be poured back into the environment in various ways, such as making it easier for you to purchase greater quantities of your fruit organic, or having some set aside to pour into a conservation project of your choice.

Online Coupons and Rebates

Regardless of whether or not you decide to go all the way and shop online, I strongly encourage you to use your coupons online. Searching a site or a manufacturer will often prove fruitful simply in its offering of money off or money back. However, consider that it takes 500,000 trees to provide the paper necessary for Sunday newspapers – a large portion of which is coupons.  It also takes 1 ½ cups of water to make one sheet of paper, and therefore the 40 million people currently printing coupons just used up 3.75 million gallons of water!*  Trust me when I tell you that using those valuable coupons online is a huge eco-friendly step.

Swap Sites

In a manner of “recycling” online, I encourage you to check out online swap sites. You’ll come in contact with others of a similar mindset, and not only will you be able to find some great savings on things you need through a recycled manner, you can also clear out your own home and help someone else.

Check out: and

If you’re feeling adventurous and ready to dip your toes into the world of online shopping, here are a couple top eco-friendly sites that may have you soon diving in headfirst:

Local Harvest: If you want to find local farmers or local markets, this is the place to go! It’s got a huge database that allows you to search by either the name/description of your desired product or your location.

Organic Mall: A little of everything all in one spot: groceries, personal items, clothing, even education products.

Green Shopper: Sister site to Amazon and similar in offerings, but donates 10% of all profits to social change and environmental issues.

Honestly, the options are nearly endless. A Google search of “eco-friendly shopping” will provide you with hours and hours of reading and countless websites sure to give you all the option and variety you need.

*Coupon statistics retrieved from: Waste Integrated Service Consultants. 4, January 2011.

Tara Alley is a freelance writer native to Montana, now living in sunny Orange County, Calif. She endeavors to live a greener, more fulfilled lifestyle. She currently promotes coffee makers for Coffee Home Direct.

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