Published: March 13, 2023 By

We can all practice sustainability by paying attention to how we consume products and spend our money. But it isn’t always easy to understand what products and practices positively support our environment. Our Sustainable Buffs offer insight into how to be a more conscious consumer.

Someone grocery shoppingHow to vote with your dollar for sustainability

How you spend your money can impact how companies choose to do business. As more people make sustainable choices when they shop, the market may continue to shift to incorporate more sustainable practices. You don’t have to make practicing sustainability a full-time job. You can do small things that add up to a significant impact.

Avoid single-use plastics

Single-use plastics harm the environment by polluting our oceans and piling up in landfills. Plus, the petroleum used to produce plastics causes excess carbon emissions. You can help by avoiding single-use plastics. 

  • Invest in reusable containers for food storage.
  • Use a water bottle instead of buying drinks in plastic bottles.
  • Purchase food in bulk instead of individually packaged containers.
  • Properly recycle consumer packaging.
  • Buy products from companies that use non-plastic packaging.
  • Take reusable bags with you for shopping.

Use secondhand products

Boulder has several thrift stores that offer clothing, home goods, furniture, sports equipment and more. You can shop for a wide variety of items secondhand. When we reuse items, we reduce the need to manufacture more and keep existing items out of landfills.

  • Check out local thrift stores.
  • Borrow items from a friend instead of buying something new.
  • Shop online marketplaces for secondhand items.
  • Visit local garage sales.
  • Host a clothing swap with your friends or residence hall.
  • Donate or sell items you no longer need instead of throwing them away.

Eat local and reduce food waste

It is estimated that 30 to 40% of food is wasted in the U.S. every year. And food waste accounts for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. We can all do our part to practice sustainability with our food choices.

  • Shop at local farmer’s markets.
  • Research to find what food items are produced locally.
  • Eat seasonal fruits and vegetables.
  • Make a shopping list and buy only what you plan to use to avoid food waste.
  • If you need support addressing food insecurity, visit the Buff Pantry. Or donate your extra non-perishable food to the Buff Pantry.

Buy quality products

Fast fashion and poorly produced items have led to excess waste. While better quality products may cost more upfront, they will last longer. You won’t have to spend money as frequently to replace damaged or worn items.

  • Read reviews to determine the quality of a product.
  • Buy fewer clothing items.
  • Shop for products with a reputation for sustainability and longevity.

How to shop sustainably

It can feel confusing to shop sustainably. As more brands try to cash in on the sustainability movement, some companies are untrustworthy with their practices. Ensuring you’re spending your money well can take a little effort.

Understand greenwashing

Many brands are changing their business models to be friendlier to the planet, or at least they say they are. When businesses claim that their products are environmentally friendly without that being the case, it is called greenwashing. 

Greenwashing is problematic for multiple reasons. When consumers believe a product is biodegradable or ethically sourced, they may pay more. Greenwashing weakens the trust between brands and consumers. It’s unfair to consumers when they put their money into a product that doesn’t do what it claims. 

How to avoid greenwashed products

There are ways to avoid greenwashed products. Researching is the best way to ensure your products are good for the environment. If you spend money on eco-friendly products, it’s best to look into the brand and ensure they do what they claim.

This research could be as simple as searching online for product reviews or looking into what resources are involved in creating a product. It is helpful to look at a company’s mission or values page. If it mentions actions the company takes to ensure sustainable practices, that's a green flag. Some things to look for include equal and equitable pay for employees, transparent harvesting and creation practices and representing all types of people and bodies in marketing.  There are certifications for virtually every type of product. Cradle2Cradle is one popular certification. In this case, someone has already done the work. You can find many different products that are already certified!

Find support from the Environmental Center

If you have questions about being a more conscious consumer, the Environmental Center offers workshops and other resources. Also, you can join the Sustainable Buff community or find others ways to get involved with sustainability on campus and in the community.