Attention Walmart Shoppers! How to Shop Sustainably in a Fast Fashion, Fast Furniture, Mega Store World - 27 East

Attention Walmart Shoppers! How to Shop Sustainably in a Fast Fashion, Fast Furniture, Mega Store World

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Local UPS driver Jeff Feinstein says that about 70 percent of packages delivered in the Hamptons are via Amazon. To help drivers reduce carbon emissions, order in bundles rather than one thing at a time and never choose “expedited delivery.” JENNY NOBLE

Local UPS driver Jeff Feinstein says that about 70 percent of packages delivered in the Hamptons are via Amazon. To help drivers reduce carbon emissions, order in bundles rather than one thing at a time and never choose “expedited delivery.” JENNY NOBLE

IKEA now offers alternative Swedish “plant balls.” These tasty plant-based “meatballs” have four percent of the climate footprint of a traditional meatball. By 2025, IKEA hopes to have 80 percent of its packaged food be vegan. JENNY NOBLE

IKEA now offers alternative Swedish “plant balls.” These tasty plant-based “meatballs” have four percent of the climate footprint of a traditional meatball. By 2025, IKEA hopes to have 80 percent of its packaged food be vegan. JENNY NOBLE

Look for the green dot section in every department of IKEA. These areas offer everything from this buy back furniture program to solar panels to containers to help sort trash. JENNY NOBLE

Look for the green dot section in every department of IKEA. These areas offer everything from this buy back furniture program to solar panels to containers to help sort trash. JENNY NOBLE

Always look for the most energy efficient option. Most mega stores offer ways to conserve energy with induction cooktop, fridges, freezers, washing machines and water-saving faucets. More importantly, keep what you have as long as possible. JENNY NOBLE

Always look for the most energy efficient option. Most mega stores offer ways to conserve energy with induction cooktop, fridges, freezers, washing machines and water-saving faucets. More importantly, keep what you have as long as possible. JENNY NOBLE

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Sustainable Living

  • Publication: Arts & Living
  • Published on: Jan 5, 2023
  • Columnist: Jenny Noble

If you were alive, female and resided within 100 miles of Boston in 1984, you knew the black hole of fast fashion, otherwise known as Filene’s Basement. As a teenager, my friends and I would head into the trenches of Filene’s sometime around midday, only to reemerge much later discovering that it was already dark out. Down in this subterranean paradise, we smothered ourselves so completely in mounds of loot that other customers often assumed we worked there. We burrowed for hours into piles of clothes we didn’t especially want or need, but considered too cheap not to buy.

And why not? By the time you grew sick of something, it would have fallen apart anyway. Set an egg timer and the look was out of style.

Today, we consume more material goods than Madonna’s 1984 Material Girl could have begun to imagine. Between 1991 and 2007, the average number of clothing items purchased rose from 34 to 67. Between 1970 and 2008, per capita disposable income doubled, and by 2008 we were spending all but 2.7 percent of it every year. Meanwhile, the price of much of what we were buying plunged. By the early 1990s, American families had, on average, twice as many possessions as they did 25 years earlier. Countertops are bigger, beds are bigger and closets have doubled in size.

“Everything we build and make is now estimated to outweigh all living things on Earth,” notes JB Mackinnon in the book, “The Day The World Stops Shopping.”

And what do we do with all our stuff when it’s not sent to landfills or dumped in the ocean? One in 11 Americans rents self-storage space, 50 percent of whom are now simply storing what wouldn’t fit in their homes, even though the size of the average American house has almost doubled in the past 50 years.

This protracted spending spree is a major contributor to climate change. Aside from the toxic pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that factories produce, we’re gobbling up the Earth’s resources at a rate five times faster than can be regenerated.

If we know how much consumption contributes to climate change, why is it so hard to slow down?

The problem is with our brains. Peter Whybrow, chair of psychiatry at UCLA, explains, “The prefrontal cortex has evolved to make us instinctively selfish and focused on short-term pleasure.” When we obtain a reward, the brain instantly delivers a pulse of dopamine to the frontal cortex. This worked for hunter-gatherers because their existence was characterized by scarcity. Whatever they found had to be consumed immediately.

Today, our instant gratification hardwiring hasn’t caught up with the abundance of stuff everywhere, all the time, and always on sale. As Kermit the frog laments, “It’s not easy being green!”

So what is a poor materialist to do?

“Just Say No” (even when it’s on sale). While retailers are busy wooing our consciences with “eco-friendly” goods, the most environmental store is the one you don’t go into.

Before you’re sucked into the vortex of choices, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” You’ve managed to survive this long without a robotic cat litter box, right? A decorative vase. A pair of shoes that are calling your name. One more salad bowl just because the design is cool. All this stuff you didn’t know you needed is what Mackinnon calls, “the surreal clutter of modern life.”

Try going on a shopping fast. Or maybe just a diet. Lent is right around the corner. Set a goal to abstain from a specific category, or set a time frame of no shopping for one month. Then take note of the money you’ve saving. With inflation up, the stock market down and a looming recession, why not?

When you do find yourself under the florescent lights of a mega store, try to avoid its calculated seduction by sticking to your list. In what’s termed the Gruen Effect, mega store floor plans are designed to make consumers lose track of their original intentions and become more susceptible to impulse buys.

If you really need that essential thingamajig, there’s usually a way to find a more environmental alternative. Thanks to public pressure, mega stores like IKEA and Target are actually stepping up to the plate: They’re using more renewable and recycled material, and eliminating waste in their operations and supply chains, for starters. Once synonymous with disposable furniture, IKEA set a target to be “climate positive” by 2030, meaning they plan to reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than they emit.

They’re also making it easier for us to shop sustainably. At IKEA look for a giant green dot on the wall, indicating that items are made sustainably or help us be less wasteful. With their new buy back program, IKEA is reinventing furniture to make it last longer. Instead of throwing out your old furniture, exchange it for a store voucher. Then they’ll either fix it, reuse it, donate it, or sell it at a discount.

With the new Target Zero program, look for the tan colored target circle with “zero” written on it, indicating that a product is designed to reduce waste. Online, shop Target Zero by claim, i.e. reusable, refillable, reduced plastic, recycled content or made from compostable elements.

It’s easier to shop sustainably online than it is in any store. If you’re looking for a rug just type in “Sustainable,” “Eco-friendly,” “Environmental,” do some research and voila — greener options abound.

That great Walmart in the sky, Amazon, is also making it easier to shop more sustainably. Look for their Climate Pledge Friendly label, which now lets consumers shop across 32 environmental certifications.

To make online shopping itself more environmental, wait and order several items at once, rather than one thing at a time, and never choose “expedited shipping.” This way the system can deliver packages more efficiently and use less fuel.

Beware of corporate greenwashing — the art of falsely convincing consumers that a brand is environmentally friendly. Putting a bunny icon on the back of a package doesn’t mean the product is cruelty free. “30% Recycled Polyester” doesn’t really matter if the other 70 percent is full of chemicals. “Eco-friendly,” “Clean” and “Pure” are meaningless claims that anyone can make.

Kmart is a great example of a corporation that makes empty promises and claims that don’t make sense. The company pledges not to use exotic animal fur. When did Kmart sell leopard skin jackets in the first place?

IKEA also practices some greenwashing. The big green dot in the home decor section that designates items as sustainable includes paintings of birds, mountains and river bed rocks. Really? As with all environmental claims, we just have to use common sense.

So if you do decide to go on a shopping fast, the big question is, “How will you get that dopamine fix?!?!” In a capitalist society, we’ve shrunken the diversity of dopamine inducing pleasures mostly to the realm of material consumption. Rather than beating ourselves up over shopping vs. not shopping, psychiatrists recommend expanding the ways in which we get a dopamine rush. Neuroscience professor Peter Sterling describes what alternative dopamine rewards look like: “The list would resemble roughly what we do on vacation: more nature, exercise, sports, crafts, art, music and sex.”

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