The Power Of Shopping Sustainably

We asked eco-warrior, Anne Therese Bengtsson, for her advice on shopping sustainably and how we can implement her tactics in our day-to-day lives. Anne grew up in Sweden where spending time in nature inspired her to give back to Mother Earth and impact the world in sustainable living. After receiving her masters in Branding & Integrated Communications at City College of New York her path lead her to start Role Models Management, an ethical model and talent agency on a mission to redefine what it's like to be a model. Through all her motivation in life her podcast "Hey Change" was born, a platform to inspire, educate, and promote a more compassionate future. She is a strong and passionate woman that has so much to say and educate us all in sustainability! You can meet her at our Spring Launch Party where she will discuss everything below in more detail.

What is your best tip for zero-waste shopping online? How do you get around cardboard packaging and plastic if it comes packaged that way?

It’s a tough one, and I think that the first thing to do is to really stop and ask yourself, is this something I really need and if so, is online the only place I can buy it? If you come to the conclusion that you do need it and that you won’t be able to find it on your regular shopping route, try to do some research on the brand’s website and see what policies they have for shipping. I have many times asked customer service how they think about sustainable packaging before placing an order, and if there is a window for comments somewhere in the ordering process, make sure you leave a comment that you appreciate that sustainability and minimum packaging is being thought of. 

However, even in times when I’ve asked for sustainable packaging, I feel like my requests have been met half-way. And even if the company claims that everything they ship in is recyclable packaging I don’t think recycling is really the solution. It takes a lot of energy to recycle and also, recycling means that whatever has been produced still exists. The era of online shopping has created a whole new world of opportunities and conveniences for us consumers but to what cost? I think the most sustainable thing you can do is, again, stop and ask yourself not just one, but a few times, if this is something you really need. Save it for later and come back the next day, allow yourself some breathing room and time for thought. I believe that most purchases we make today are the results of impulse clicking or simple as an activity when we’re bored.

What are some key tips for knowing how to weed out the un-sustainable brands?

I would say take a peek behind their labels and find an explanation for why they claim to be sustainable and what that really means. It’s easy to fall victim to a company’s green washing but once you start digging, it’s pretty easy to see the shallowness behind the title. Obviously, it’s not the easiest task to spot a greenwasher, but I'd say that as a consumer the best thing you can do is to stay educated and know what to look for. If you learn that linen uses a lot less water than cotton, then products with linen are obviously a good choice.  Become familiar with some certifications and look for them when you shop, like Fairtrade, GOTS, Madesafe, USDA organic, and the Rainforest Alliance frog, for example. Also, if you see that something is c2c (Cradle To Cradle) certified, then you know that’s a good choice!

How do you prepare for your trips to the market? Do you frequent local farmers markets and contribute to local shops rather than the "big guys"?

I’m lucky enough to live very close to both Whole Foods and Guss’s market on Haight, both stores that offer a lot of local greens and food in bulk. I do all I can to avoid plastic and always bring my own mesh bags and jars. Grains, nuts, salts and other bulk items go into jars or, if I’ve forgotten, those green compostable bags you can now find in many stores. And honestly, I’m a bit extreme at times. If I’m at Whole Foods and know I want spinach or arugula, for example, I know I can’t find that in bulk there so I’ll make a second trip later to Guss’s, where you can buy that in your own bag. It might seem extreme but it honestly hurts my soul anytime I have to buy anything in plastic, so it makes it worth the trip!

And OMG, yes! Of course, I love a sunny stroll through a local farmers market, what better things are there to do on a Sunday?

What advice would you give a beginner to sustainable shopping?

Slow down, slow down, slow down. Ask questions, be willing to learn, start bringing your own bags and cups around and again, slow down. The right choices will usually be made when we give ourselves time to have a second thought. If you have forgotten your own to-go coffee cup for example, then how badly do you really need a coffee right now? Will you die? Or can it wait? I think that as soon as we take ourselves out of the trap of convenience, life starts to make more sense and you see everything more clearly. I also love the old quote: “Discipline is freedom”. It’s so true! Just commit to not support any single-use plastics and the no-exception rule just makes life so much easier, honestly. Most times we spend a tremendous amount of energy just debating and fighting ourselves. But then also, of course, be kind to yourself! See it as a journey and remember that any journey has its detours. Just because you trip up once doesn’t mean you’ve failed, back on the horse and do better next time!

It seems there are so many ways to do this right that it's almost hard to keep track of all the proper procedures. Is there a fool-proof list of things we can share with our readers that will help them make the best decisions? Since nothing is perfect, if we had to skimp on one or two rules which would they be?

  • Slow down
  • Refuse single-use plastics 
  • Invest in your own personal eco-warrior kit and make it a habit to bring them wherever you go (utensils, coffee cup, water bottle, shopping bags).
  • Buy food in bulk and feel okay with veggies touching - they won’t kill each other ;) 
  • Buy vintage over new clothes 
  • COMPOST. Food needs to go to either a belly or a compost, never the trash. We do NOT want to feed the trash.
  • Find some ethical and sustainable brands you like and if you do feel like you want something new, buy from them.
  • Quality over quantity - ditch fast fashion! 
  • Wash clothes in cold water and hang dry.
  • Eat as many plants as you can! 
  • Support permaculture and regenerative farming 
  • Transition to as many natural products as you can - in clothes, in-home textiles, in beauty products, and cleaning products and in your food! DITCH synthetics!
  • Minimize your life and home, decluttering will help you see things clearer and move with a bigger purpose through life

How do you feel about this new Marie Kondo trend of tidying up? We love this movement and would love your input on how to keep things tidy and really spend time making sure that what you're buying is worthwhile, sustainable, and will fill your life with joy. Do you apply this concept to making your purchases as well? If not, what is your technique? We love the concept of less is more.

Omg, LOVE! It took me moving countries to understand the beauty in having less stuff, and as I’ve grown older I’ve really grown to appreciate the minimalistic lifestyle. My husband and I are very much the same and we can’t function well if our home is too messy - I also feel like if things are not in place, I can’t focus at work and I tend to get moody. We tend to praise stuff when in fact stuff is just bringing us down and making us less happy, taking a toll on the relationship around us. And so yes, we both try very hard to be conscious with what we bring into our home, and if we buy new we often make a cleanse and see what of the things we already have could potentially find a new home.

When it is time to get rid of things, whether it be food scraps, clothes, furniture or misc items, what is your best advice/technique for finding the right home for these things?

What I’ve learned is that every city differs in terms of what’s recyclable and what’s not, and San Francisco is actually leading the way on that front. I would say do some research online to see what you can recycle and how to recycle that, and then make up a system at home to make sure it’s fairly automated. For example, we have one bin for compost, a bag where we gather all plastic film, one “trash”, a box for paper and hard plastic and then separate jars for aluminum, batteries and other stuff like toothpaste tubes that need to be dropped off at a teracycle drop-off. You can recycle more than you think and if you just decide once to learn how and make a system, it’s really not that hard or annoying.

And for clothes and furniture, etc, always try to find a new home! We have furnished pretty much our entire apartment with things we’ve either found on the streets or bought second hand in thrift shops or from people selling on Craigslist. So I would say first try to see if anyone you know might want to take over your clothes or your furniture and if not, gift it away to a thrift store or sell it online. Your trash will always be someone else’s treasure!! If it’s broke, try to mend it, don’t just throw it away! I also use old worn out socks for cloths to clean in the house and kitchen, works brilliant for that! I think we just need to move away from the “throw away” culture we’ve created for ourselves because nothing ever gets thrown away, it exists somewhere, either in landfills leaking out toxic waste into our waters and ground, or swimming around the oceans killing marine life and other species. Reuse, repurpose, reduce, and, if nothing else applies, recycle!