Buying ethically on a budget

Make your place the good place…

Sustainability. Ethical buying. Responsible purchasing. Slow fashion. Mindful shopping. All these terms are becoming increasingly prevalent as the developed world wakes up to the damage they cause people and the environment through purchasing decisions, whether they be clothes, food, homewares, technology or pretty much anything else readily available and ready made for our convenience.

It’s something that’s long been on the back of my mind; the importance of buying items that have been responsibly and ethically produced and/or support local businesses. However, ethical living is certainly something easier said than done, which, as more and more people attempt to live this way, they are finding to be true, I think for two reasons: effort and cost. There are definitely small, fairly convenient ways to make changes, such as recycling more, buying second hand, swapping plastic for glass etc. And I think part of the reason this has been on my mind is that we should be more prepared to make changes, even if inconvenient, for the sake of people suffering due to production processes. But the fact remains, buying ethical usually means quite a jump in cost, and, when it comes to the complex process that make a business “ethical”, frankly a bit confusing. Buying $3 glass containers from Kmart is one thing, trying to find an affordable pair of work shoes that a) fit my size 6.5 feet and b) are actually appropriate for standing for more than half an hour, when it turns out all my go-to brands received a D or below on Baptist World Aid’s Ethical Fashion Report, is quite another. Even the most well-meaning consumer can easily put a foot wrong, so to speak.

If you’ve seen The Good Place, you may think this sounds familiar. In the words of the judge, “Earth is a mess, ya’ll.” If you aren’t familiar, the episode focused on a group of humans trying to convince the judge that more people deserved to be in the good place, (a fictional afterlife that only the best people have earned enough ‘points’ to enter) but that life now is so complicated it is nearly impossible to make good choices- their point being that even if you made what you thought was a responsible choice of tomato, it was difficult to know what pesticides had been used and who was affected, even if you did have time to do the research. Or, even if one doesn’t make a choice, that has negative consequences (side note, I very much relate to the character Chidi’s inability to make decisions). My point is, The Good Place is an excellent show and making responsible purchases is difficult.

This is something I still need to work on- I could probably spend more time on research and definitely do better at remembering my reusable bags, but I think the reality is that sometimes we have to make small changes and work with what we’ve got. When I moved house last year I was determined that in setting up a new place, I would make as many ethical purchases as possible. That is where I found the difficulties already mentioned- even if I meant to buy something ethically, I’d often forget to look into the background of the item, purchase it, then realise I’d probably not made the best choice. This was easily fixed by some quick googling, whereupon I found home wares options- not as many as at chain stores, but I think that’s one of the things that is more easily sacrificed for the sake of shopping ethically. But when you are trying to set up a house from scratch, the price adds up. Truly ethically sourced furniture and other large items were out of the question, and even things such as cushions and tablecloths get pricier. I don’t think this should cause us to give up, but I think it is important to acknowledge that it can be an overwhelming choice, to try and make ethical purchases all the time, as The Good Place attests. I find that if I’m overwhelmed it’s hard to make decisions at all (hi, Chidi), or I go with the easiest at the time. I don’t have any easy answers to this, and it’s certainly not something I have sorted out, but I have listed a few ways around the complex nature of this topic, to get you started if you are also in a similar situation.



Buying smaller items such as reusable water bottles (this one’s from Frank Green) is an affordable option.

1. Decide on a particular thing to purchase ethically

Having realised that buying everything ethically was out of the question financially, I decided that I’d focus on smaller items such as eco-friendly cleaning products and kitchen items. Definitely not as grand a gesture as planned but small things help too.

2. Buy second hand

I am not great at op-shopping. Or shopping in general; I plan to go out and look for what I need and quickly get bored, so browsing for an op shop purchase is not my forte, but another small way to help is by not purchasing new items as often.

3. Find the most affordable options

As mentioned, there are more and more options out there, so even if you can’t splash out on one ethically sourced items, it’s likely there are cheaper options online, or at local shops and markets (bonus- supporting local businesses).

4. Re-purpose

Maybe you don’t have several wooden bowls from your father’s wood turning practise to use around the house, (hypothetically) but there’s nothing like moving to help you realise how much extra stuff you actually own. Before going out to buy something new, think about what you already have that you can use/reuse/repurpose.

5. Minimalism

Marie Kondo has popularised this one so I don’t need to say much more, but a great way to not buy unethically sourced goods is to just… not buy them. Or take time buying things that you don’t need straight away and see how you go without or buy them later on when you’ve had time to research and/or save.

There are many other areas this applies to, not just home wares, but I think the main thing for the average consumer is to make small changes where they can.


Photo by Maria Ilves on Unsplash


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