With growing environmental awareness and political discourse on sustainable consumption, Caitlin Webb asks us to take a moment to assess the origins of our eco-purchases and make the switch from e-commerce giants to local eco-businesses.
Recently, I decided I wanted to switch from my single-use cotton pads to some reusable makeup remover pads.
By default, I went onto Amazon on my phone, searched ‘eco’ pads, found some for a relatively cheap price and placed a ‘one-click’ order. Only afterwards did I consider that I could have bought the same product from a small UK-based business: not only would this have had a lower carbon impact, but it would have supported a small business that aligns with my environmental values.
Undeniably, purchasing from Amazon is a great way to find lots of great eco-friendly products at affordable prices with speedy delivery. But, if you’re anything like me, it might just be your default option.
What is sustainable consumption?
Sustainable consumption means doing more or better with less. It reflects a societal shift towards sustainability through the efficient use of resources and reduction of waste. It is not determined by single purchases but is the product of global economic trends. So, purchasing eco-products from e-commerce giants like Amazon does not discredit the benefits of the sustainable products themselves or other environmentally conscious lifestyle choices.
There is often an uncomfortable trade-off we all have to consider between convenience and cost: the majority of the time it is the company with the greatest purchasing power that wins out by offering cheaper products-in this instance, Amazon.
So, if you’re in a position to look for eco-alternatives, consider avoiding mainstream companies to support smaller brands, thereby giving them the buying power to change plastic use at companies higher up. By bypassing the convenience of next-day delivery and opting to pay a small delivery fee from a local business, you can also help to localise the supply chain, support your local economy, and offset some of the carbon emissions.
We need to talk about Amazon...
In 2018, Amazon emitted 44.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the atmosphere, which is roughly equivalent to the annual emissions of Norway. During the Pandemic year, Amazon’s business exploded as e-commerce became the most accessible way to shop in a world in lockdown. From 2019 to 2020 Amazon’s sales rocketed and they doubled their net profit to $5.2 billion. Although the data is not available yet for the impact that this has had on the environment, more orders, more deliveries, and more returns, will have most certainly increased emissions from all stages of the product supply chain.
This growth threatens Amazon’s commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040, as stated in their 2019 The Climate Pledge. A key strategy of the pledge is to increase the use of electric vehicles to save an estimate of four million tons of carbon annually by 2030. However, to what extent can this begin to offset the emissions from shipping millions of products to over 100 countries worldwide?
What can I do?
Fundamental to decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation is consumer-led market transformation. Here are a few local, UK based, eco-driven businesses that you can use as an alternative to Amazon to help drive sustainable consumption.
A huge online plastic-free store making waves in the fight against plastic. Offering plastic-free alternatives to help individuals make simple switches that make a big difference.
A sustainable living, eco-shop aiming to make eco-friendly, plastic-free products more accessible for everyone with a rewards system for loyal customers.
An eco-mission selling affordable, minimalist, reusable, and durable eco products from small, sustainable, and ethical businesses.
A one-stop shop for zero-waste, vegan and cruelty-free products. They partner with over 250 independent UK brands to offer essential eco-friendly products for everyday life.
An online store offering reusable replacements to disposable household products to help you ditch the waste and become more sustainable.
There are also lots of small zero waste businesses offering specialist products such as,
- Rapanui or Lucy & Yak for sustainable clothing
- World of Books for second-hand books
- The Thoughtful Pup for eco-friendly dog treats
These are just a few examples, but a quick online search can help you find a range of eco-friendly products from a business in your area for click-and-collect or delivery.
Individual choices are fundamental in the transition towards a greener economy. So, give meaning to each ‘click’, break old habits, and make conscious decisions in your purchasing practices.
And, next time you’re doing some online shopping, take a moment to think about lesser-known companies that might be located just around the corner.