Any product you buy has a considerably longer life than your personal experience with it. The primary components existed before it was manufactured. They will continue to exist long after your time with your new purchase is over. Making an ethical purchase requires you to ask yourself questions, that may contribute towards a more sustainable future.
What Materials Does an Ethical Purchase Contain?
Try to find products that are produced from higher quality and more sustainable resources, such as wood, metals, glass, merino wools, recycled cotton, hemp, etc. Avoid plastics and oil-based products where you can.
For food, remember you are not just buying the food itself. You are buying the packaging that comes with it. The cardboard, the plastic, and the styrofoam. Try to find products with recyclable packaging used, or better yet, without any packaging at all (like buying from a farmers market).
How Durable Is This Item?
This should go without saying, but a general rule to follow is “if you buy cheap, you buy twice”. You may think you are getting a good deal on something but consider why it is cheap in the first place. It may be “on-sale” but companies still profit from these items, regardless of how good their sale seems to appear. Their manufacturing cost is usually much cheaper than you would expect.
If you’re dead set on buying something, it is worth saving up for a superior-quality item instead. It will likely last longer and will save you time as you won’t be needing to replace it any time soon. Judge something not just by what it costs, but also by the cost of your time, dignity, and peace of mind.
Unfortunately for those with lesser incomes, this is sometimes just not possible. But that’s another post entirely. Click here to check out a really insightful video on that topic.
How Long Do You Need This Item?
Would it be more effective to rent or borrow it instead? It is easy to fall into the trap of buying an item and genuinely thinking you’ll use it often, in order to justify buying it. But you use it once or twice, and it sits there.
Think of it in terms of cost per use. If you use an item every day, its overall cost will be low (even if the initial cost was very high). However, if you buy an item and use it once, the initial price may not seem like such a good deal at all and may make you think again.
Can You Easily Repair It if It Breaks?
Or will you need to replace the entire unit? And subsequently, can you recycle it?
Many manufacturers purposefully design their products with a short lifespan in order to force the consumer to buy another. They can even make their products impossible to repair without their proprietary tools, forcing you to get repairs through themselves so they can charge you more! I’m looking at you, Apple.
Sadly this is more common than you may realise. This transition has been slow and it never used to be like this. There are products made decades ago that are still in service today because they were produced with a different design philosophy. The idea was to produce high-quality items that were reliable and repairable. This has now shifted to “produce items that bring us the most profit”.
How Much CO2 Was Emitted in Order to Ship It Here?
Products shipped from abroad inherently have a larger environmental toll than products sourced from your local area.
Sometimes it is just not possible to buy locally sourced products (especially electronics). However, would you be able to buy the item pre-owned? Sure, that product may have been shipped from somewhere else initially, but it’s already here now! And by purchasing pre-owned you are saving a new item from needing to be shipped, thus lowering overall demand. That’s a more ethical purchase than something brand-new, but locally made.