Holiday shopping won’t save the world, and, let’s face it, most evil retailers will still exist come January 1. Still, the way we buy during the biggest spending season of the year can have undeniable positive social and economic benefits. We can “do no harm” by not shopping at all, but it’s even better to do some good, by growing more sustainable economies and developing a less wasteful lifestyle that stays with us year-round. Here are six of the most impactful ways to go about it.
1. Find fashion that’s fair. After more than 1,100 garment workers lost their lives in Bangladesh earlier this year making cheap apparel for Western brands, buying ethically made apparel just got a lot more urgent. A recent poll showed that 70 percent of consumers in more than sixteen countries said they would be willing to pay a little extra for ethically sourced apparel. Now where to find it?
There is a new crop of online retailers that are so sleek and stylish, you’ll never miss those big box stores. They all provide details about whether a product is locally made, Fair Trade or eco-friendly, but—best of all—you can just shop for what you like since it’s all ethically sourced. Modavanti.com is the trendiest of the bunch, and carries several dozen brands, and some are downright cheap. (They’ve got gift cards and a promo code for Nation readers: Nation20). Zady.com and Everlane.com both sell finely crafted classic American style that’s either domestically made or ethically-made overseas; Zady has gift cards. Helpsy.com is the newcomer and pays homage to the most cutting-edge emerging designers, most of whom produce in the United States.
If you shop in chains, patronize one of the over 100 major brands that signed a legally binding agreement to pay for safety improvements in the garment factories in Bangladesh.
2. Help people use less stuff. We’ve all heard the stats: Only 13 percent of the roughly 29 billion plastic bottles sold in the United States annually are recycled. As many as 58 billion paper coffee cups are tossed out each year. As an antidote, give gifts that make it easier to consume less year around. Reusable water bottle and coffee mugs have gotten beautiful and make great gifts. The KOR Delta Hydration Vessel is visually striking and BPA-Free ($22.95) and Nalgene’s On the Fly series of BPA-free, leakproof bottles that you can open with one hand ($12.99). Caffeine freaks might like a reusable paper-cup-look-alike, such as the I Am Not a Paper Cup’s chalkboard edition, which you can write on. Or, gift a reusable shopping bag that they’ll actually want to carry around—like Rebel Green’s retro designed totes (they also have reusable zip-lock bags) or Baggu’s brightly-colored minimalist numbers.