Fast fashion window

The window of a now closed vintage store. Sept. 30, 2020.

Sustainability seems straightforward in theory. But, incorporating the discipline into your online shopping habits is harder than it looks.

Sustainability refers to the practice of using resources responsibly so they are available to support present and future generations, a practice most of the fashion industry is slow to get behind.

Incorporating sustainability into consumerism, especially online, takes determination. And before hitting the "add to cart" button, the first step is to research whether a shop sources, produces and ships their product in accordance with sustainable ethics.

Indra Bishnoi, chair of the Society of Graduate Students Sustainability Committee at Western University, recognizes this challenge and provides advice to students who want to practice sustainability while online shopping.

“I think the biggest thing is accessibility,” says Bishnoi.

Bishnoi has come across a wide array of sustainable websites through her experience of chairing the committee.

“These things require a bit more research but they’re definitely out there.”

For beginners who need a kickstart locating sustainable websites, looking through blogs is a great way to start.

Trash is For Tossers and The Zero Waste Collective are both blogs that support a zero-waste lifestyle, which guides readers through the different realms of sustainable shopping in an entertaining and informative way. Their posts include advice on how to lead a simple, environmentally-friendly life, while supporting a wide variety sustainably-run online businesses.

Once you identify a company you may be interested in purchasing from, a quick and easy way to check their sustainability efforts is through the Good on You site.

The website provides sustainability ratings for the brand name of stores you input, as well as establishes a number of different sustainability indices.

Green labels are another way to identify if a store is properly maintaining and managing resources.

“They’re a good method to follow but they’re hard to find because you often have to go searching for them a little bit more,” explains Bishnoi. “The biggest thing for figuring out if a company is really doing their part in sustainably is transparency.”

Websites — or brands — using broad, vague language like “natural” to describe a product is usually a red flag. It’s encouraging if a company’s website delves into their ingredient or materials list instead. 

“We now know that cotton and polyester actually have a negative environmental impact because of the amount of water they’re using to create them. Other materials like linen are much better,” Bishnoi says. 

It’s a good sign when a company writes about these textiles and is enthusiastic to educate the consumer on what they’re doing for the environment and their workers. Specificity is essential. 

The content of a “corporate social responsibility” or “about'' page can also distinguish a sustainable site. 

An example of a company clearly outlining their sustainability is ReImagine Co., a London-based zero waste online grocery shop.

ReImagine describes their vision of more Londoners reducing their waste and living in harmony with nature. Their local workshops, programs and activities all work towards this sentiment. 

“It’s just about clicking a couple different tabs and seeing what they’re doing as a company,” says Bishnoi. “That can really give you a good indication of whether they are actually doing something to be sustainable.”

“We, as a whole, are going to make more of a difference institutionally when we speak about our values. A bit unfortunately, in capitalism, you speak through your money.”

At the end of the day, the most sustainable thing a consumer can do is question their online buying habits. 

If you don't need something, simply don't buy it. 

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