Amazon, Shein, Zalando, AliExpress... Sound familiar? That's normal. E-commerce sites have become a must-have, and have seen an incredible spike during the pandemic. Indeed, if you are forced to stay at home, you have no choice but to buy online! But is it all eco-friendly? Is it possible to buy online while staying green?
Problems with online shopping
Online shopping has a lot of qualities: a greater variety of products, comfort for the consumer (who doesn't have to travel), savings on warehouses, etc. But there are some problems associated with it.
When buying online, the product obviously needs to be packaged so that it doesn't get broken/damaged/etc. This packaging can take many forms : a box, a closed paper bag, a plastic pouch, etc. However, some packaging is much more polluting than others. And some companies use a lot more packaging than they need.
One can receive, for example, a simple lipstick wrapped in plastic, received in a small cardboard box, which in turn is located in another, larger cardboard box. Is there really a need for all these layers of protection for such a small object?
Depending on the site you buy from, there is a good chance that transportation will be required to send your purchase. It can be a ride via a truck, plane, etc. The farther away you buy (the United States, China, etc.), the more means of transport the journey will require, which means only one thing: more CO² emissions into the air.
Let's go back to the example of lipstick. Such a small object could travel thousands of miles to reach its destination. Of course, the truck/plane isn't going to carry just that lipstick... But, in the end , is all this transport mobilization really necessary?
Not all companies deal with climate change in the same way. Some will completely abandon plastic, others will use recycled materials to make their products, some will offset the carbon footprint of the purchase by planting trees... But this is not the case for everyone. A lot of e-commerce sites don't do any engaging actions in terms of ethics and the environment.
Manufacture of the garment/object
All objects/clothes have components and materials that are essential to their manufacture (so far, I don't think I'm shocking anyone). But some materials are more harmful to the environment and health than others.
A Greenpeace study, published in 2012, reported the disturbing use of phthalates, nonylphenol ethoxylates and azo dyes (which may be carcinogenic) in a large proportion of fast-fashion clothing. All three are pollutants that are very harmful to the planet, animals and humans.
How do we fix all this?
Fortunately, there are solutions and alternatives to buying on e-commerce sites (specialized in fast-fashion/new products)! There is a way to buy with sustainability in mind, and this with slow-fashion.
Giving new life to clothes/objects that have already been used : there's nothing like it to curb the pollution caused by overconsumption! When possible, buy second-hand/refurbished. This will reduce the waste caused by the overproduction of clothes/objects, knowing that many of them are thrown away or are no longer used until a few months after their first use. There's no need to produce new clothes/items over and over again if everyone restocks like this.
In order to avoid the use of transport (and therefore to emit CO² unnecessarily), it is better, if possible, to buy local! This will allow the object/garment to travel far fewer miles. So, yes, sometimes we would like to buy local, but the desired product can only be found on sites such as Amazon and the like. In this case, rather than clicking on the first e-commerce site that comes along, do a more in-depth search to first find sites that sell near you. So it will become a reflex, a habit, and you will end up buying in distant countries only the products that you really need and that are not available closer.
Check the measures put in place by the company
As mentioned earlier, some companies do not take any action to improve the living conditions of their employees or the environment. Therefore, it is imperative, before each purchase, to check whether the company/brand/store in question is doing its part of the market and is responsible and ethical.
Check manufacturing conditions
Finally, if you're going to check the ethical actions of companies, you might as well check the way the clothes are made at the same time! Find out about the least polluting materials /materials and focus on clothes/objects that are not harmful to the planet and health.
Basic rules when making an online purchase
Generally speaking, to facilitate responsible purchasing and stop overconsumption, there are a few tips to follow.
Ask yourself a few questions: Do I really need this item? How long will I use it? Do I already have an item/garment that performs the same function? Do I need it right now? Make it a habit to ask yourself these questions for every purchase. Thus, you will be used to evaluating the relevance of the said purchase, or, on the contrary, judging if it is useless to your needs.
No uncertain purchase
A small nuance compared to the point above: here, the question to ask yourself is "Am I sure this is the product I want, and not another?" As soon as possible, avoid uncertain purchases. You may regret it, and potentially return the product (leading to the transport of the latter again, therefore more CO² emissions, etc.). If you're going to spend, do it once and for good, so you can be sure you won't have any regrets and always know what you're buying this product for.
To answer the initial question "Buying online while staying green: is it possible?", the answer is: yes ! It is quite possible to buy online while staying green. All you have to do is follow the tips mentioned above and adopt them for the long term.
Discover our positive impact companies
Meet My Job is the 1st Belgian recruitment platform dedicated to sustainable development. So, what are you waiting for? Find your dream job/internship in sustainability here !