There are many different ways to think about shopping ethically. I will go ahead and answer this question by giving a few tips to shop in a more environmentally responsible and ethical manner.
Think about the distance the good has traveled. Shop for locally produced goods, the shorter the distance the item travels to get to you the less carbon output. Additionally, you will be supporting your local economy.
Minimize packaging. The less packaging of a product means less manufacturing to make those materials and less garbage you will be creating. Do crackers wrapped in celophane, in a cardboard box and again wrapped in celophane taste better than those which stop at the box? Also, look for reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging. For example, buy milk in plastic jugs which are recyclable rather than in the cardoard cartons.
Bring your own shopping bags. Invest in some sturdy shopping bags, or look for store specials. You will likely save a few cents each shopping trip and will greatly reduce the amount of plastic needing to be produced. If you do use store bags make sure to re-use them for the next shopping trip, or to pick up after your dog.
Lastly, if possible ride your bike or walk to the store. If you live close to your local market or mall you can get some great exercise and reduce emissions by getting to your local store under your own power. Bringing a backpack allows an easy way to carry your goods back home without the cumbersom shopping bags.
The most important part of trying to shop ethically is to be as knowledgeable as possible in regards to what you are buying and where it is coming from. When you are aware of these sorts of factors, you will be able to judge if a product is green in its manufacturing, shipping, etc.
Another way to acquire items new to you without putting any additional stress on the enivornment and its natural resources, or the human community that processes these goods is to exchange with friends, family and neighbors items that you no longer use for ones that you will use.
In Portland, Oregon one neighborhood organizes an annual Useful Goods Exchange to enable the entire community to exchange out the old and bring in the “new” without having to pay a dime or require the manufacture of any item. Its an incredibly utilitarian yet powerful model and easy enough to replicate in neighborhoods across the nation.
As soon as a climate bill comes out that taxes carbon the price you see should reflect the carbon intesity – in which case you won’t have to be as concerned as where you food comes from. In some cases, the carbon content of local food is higher (for example in a local greenhouse powered by electricity from coal) than food grown in its natural ecozone and shipped to your grocery store. Besides if you are growing local food that isn’t native you are probably supporting an invasive species.
One aspect that you should be concerned about are the species that you might be eating into extinction – fish are a very good example. There are many kinds of fish, and it is hard to keep up with which ones we are pushing to the verge of extinction and which ones come from fisheries that are well managed. To make it easier to figure out whether you are eating ethical fish there is a good iPhone app which will tell you which are ok to eat. You can find it here: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_iPhone.aspx
There is another iPhone app under development which lets you scan the barcode of an item in with your camera, and then brings up all the information on how sustainable that product is. Make sure to keep an eye out for that app.
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