Our Shopping Habits Impact on the World Around Us
By: Curtis Harding
We started our series on defining what “local” means in 2021 by exploring how the digital world has expanded to encompass the entire world. We can now support so many more local brands and communities than ever before, but that doesn’t come without challenges. We can’t talk about shopping globally without acknowledging the hidden environmental costs.
When I was a kid in Pennsylvania, I used to visit family every weekend in Amish Country. Stopping by a roadside farm stand to pick up produce on the way home from my grandparents’ was just a normal part of life. They were by far and away the best tasting fruits and vegetables I have ever had, but what made them even better was the environmentally conscious approach.
They didn’t require elaborate plastic packaging for protection, as they didn’t bounce from country to country. And then there was the fuel saved, as “shipping” meant it was carted from the fields to the side of the road. No planes, trucks, or boats needed. I can think of no purer example of the environmentally conscious benefits of staying and shopping local than those produce stands from my childhood.
Of course the benefits of shopping locally go far beyond these talking points. A much smaller local footprint, saving on heating and cooling costs, requiring less extensive development, and cutting down on overhead, carry over to all smaller, independently owned stores.
But once we move beyond our ability to walk to our neighborhood stores or to pick up food from the side of the road, we’re still left with an unsustainable shipping dilemma and no perfect way to address it. Each company has to figure out its own methods. It is their responsibility and we should hold them to it.
Which Brands Have a “Local” Feel to them?
OOKIOH is actively working to eliminate plastics from their footprint, so that their swimwear is produced, packaged, and shipped without the extra waste. This is crucial since, in 2018, the EPA estimated that the U.S. alone created over 82 million tons of plastic packaging. Over 30 million tons of that ended up dumped in landfills. That’s just from one country.
SOKO, on the other hand, ships relatively small pieces of jewelry around the world. They ship their items with hang tags made out of 100% recyclable paper, but on top of that, they make sure their packaging is kept small and is perfectly fit to their pieces.
It may seem like a small detail, but oversized boxes not only use more waste to secure — how many Amazon boxes have you gotten that are massively oversized and stuffed with plastic or Styrofoam packing material? — they also take up shipping space, creating more trips and burning more fuel. Over the past couple decades, international flights and ships have by far been the fastest growing sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Until we can develop greener fuel, we need to do what we can to slow that down.
Then there’s an apparel brand like Altar, which sources compostable, biodegradable, and recyclable shipping materials and offers consumers the option of adding carbon credits to help offset the impact of shipping. And the less patient we are, the greater that impact can be. Rushed shipping creates more trips and more greenhouse gas emissions as we hurry packages to our front doors.
Shop Local, Think Big
Being able to support local communities and brands all over the world is an amazing gift. But it’s up to us to pull away from the instant gratification we’ve been conditioned to crave. And it’s up to us to support the brands willing to do their part to ship sustainably. Mass retail has been pushing us in a dangerous, unsustainable direction for too long. It’s time we turned to small, local brands as one way to push back.
D.O.B supports local brands who have a small environmental footprint, and companies who are committed to evolving their packaging and shipping practices with full transparency. We are on a journey together, focused on building towards a better future.