posted by Malachi Chadwick

rules for 10:10 shopping

Top tips for the low-carbon consumer

Carbon-conscious shopping

It’s not always easy to make the right choice at the checkout. By the time something lands in your shopping bag, the carbon that’s gone into making, growing or shipping it – its embedded emissions – are invisible and outside your control. But getting to grips with this bit of your footprint can make a huge difference, so it's well worth a try. 

Low-carbon shopping can be a minefield, but follow these rules and you won't go far wrong

1. Treat yourself

Buy good-quality things and hold onto them for longer

The old adage 'buy cheap, pay twice' applies just as much to carbon as to cash. As a (very) general rule, high-quality items are greener than their lower-quality counterparts because for each pound spent you're generating fewer materials and carbon emissions.

Buying a designer shirt, for example, may not seem like a particularly green thing to do. But given that most of the carbon footprint of a shirt is in growing and processing the cotton, it follows that (if you can afford it) spending a bit more on a luxury shirt is a better bet than buying two cheaper shirts with the same money.

Ultimately, it's not about breaking the bank – it's about choosing quality over quantity. Spend a bit more on something you really love, and you’re likely use it more often and keep it for longer. And if something does go wrong, repairs and spare parts are generally easier to come by.

2. Think second-hand

One person's clutter is the another's buried treasure lets you lend and borrow rather 
than buying new

From a 10:10 perspective, getting stuff second-hand can only be a good thing. You get what you're looking for without producing any new emissions – perfect!

But the benefits don't stop there. Second-hand stuff:

  • is usually cheaper (or even free).
  • reduces the chance that you'll run into someone wearing the same thing as you
  • tends not to come swathed in mountains of unnecessary packaging

The internet is the best thing that ever happened to second-hand shopping – the advent of eBay, Gumtree, Freecycle and lending/borrowing sites like Ecomodo have made it easy to find what you're looking for.

Things are looking up on the high street too – our renewed appetite for vintage fashion has given charity shops a big boost, while stores like Traid specialise in making new clothes from the fabric of old ones.

3. Buy efficient

EU energy label

For gadgets, appliances and anything else that consumes electricity, it's important to think about what happens when you get it home. Find yourself landed with an energy hog, and it's bad news for wallet and carbon footprint alike.

To make sure you're buying efficient, just check the product's energy label. It'll look something like the one on the right.

Remember that energy labels don't take size into account, so think about how big your appliance needs to be – a small fridge or television rated B may use less power than a bigger one rated A.

4. See the wood and the trees

Go for reclaimed or FSC certified wood

Look for the FSC logo on wood and paper products

Wood is a tricky one. Get the right stuff, and it can be one of the most climate-friendly materials going. Wood from virgin rainforests, on the other hand, is most definitely a Bad Idea.The best way to be sure you're getting good wood is to choose products bearing the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo. The FSC standard covers everything from toilet paper to bus shelters, and their website has a product search to help you find what you need.

Best of all, however, is reclaimed wood, which is not only a smart choice emissions-wise, but also tends, for various reasons, to be better quality than the new stuff. A good place to get your hands on reclaimed wood is Salvo, a classifieds website with listing for everything from reclaimed floorboards to antique staircases.

5. Put your feet up

When it comes to carbon, home delivery often trumps a drive to the shops

If the thing you're buying will fit in a rucksack and the shop in question is within walking or cycling distance, that's always a good bet. But for larger items or longer distances, home delivery is very often the way to go.

It might seem odd to say that a big delivery truck could be better for the climate than your car, but think about it this way: your car journey carries one wardrobe/television/box of paperclips, while the truck might well carry a few hundred – and is less likely to spend 45 minutes lost on the inner ring road. So although a delivery truck involves a bigger engine travelling a bit further, its emissions are typically shared between lots more people.

The research: carbon impact of home delivery  vs shopping trips (pdf)