If 22 April is a date to reflect on all we need to do for the survival of all, let’s celebrate this date every day. Obviously, we can’t shop our way out of many of the planet’s most challenging environmental situations but, by being more conscious consumers, we can choose products that in some way consider the threats facing us, or actively aim for positive impact. Here are some thoughts on what to get for the home, what to gift and what to take away – and how to measure our footprint and that of the brands we support – to make our lives a little greener.
WWF’s My Footprint App helps you consider your personal carbon footprint: a great first step in measuring your impact. This app prompts us to think about our energy use, food preferences, shelter and consumer choices, and to make small but crucial changes to our everyday habits.
Aviation gets a bad rap when it comes to contributing to carbon emissions but the temperature control of all the buildings in the UK accounts for about 20 per cent of our national footprint. We can help by switching to a greener energy provider such as Good Energy or Octopus. How we heat our homes is one of the most powerful approaches to being greener.
We know to swerve single use at every opportunity, and striving for zero waste is getting easier thanks to refill stations at a growing number of food shops, such as Unpackaged at Planet Organic supermarkets in London, Bamboo Turtle in Hertfordshire and JarFull in Harrogate. Check thezerowastenetwork.com for more recommendations. For a sexier storage solution, Klean Kanteen are lightweight plastic-free, dishwasher-safe metal containers and thermoses that make storing snacks and taking leftovers on the go more appealing. Skip cling film and foil with reusable Beeswax Wraps.
Eating seasonally is a great way to be greener (it means lower food miles and farmers working with nature’s rhythms) and eat more nutritiously, and there are some handy products that act as a cheat sheet. We like the Eat Seasonably Tea Towel, which illustrates what to eat when. Daylesford Organics, an arbiter of eating seasonally, also sells homewares with a sustainability story. Its Nila Hugo Guinness napkins printed with natural indigo on hand-loomed linen are the perfect example. They’re made at Nila House in Jaipur, a cultural centre dedicated to preserving these age-old crafts as part of the Lady Bamford Foundation.
Vegan diets are believed by many to be one of the best ways to bring down our foodprint (the carbon footprint from our diets), the rationale being that methane from livestock accounts for a huge percentage of all greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. Oxford University researchers found that cutting out meat and dairy can reduce an individual’s carbon footprint by up to 73 per cent – but we still need to be sure we’re minimising monoculture and food miles. Skip supermarket chains and shop in local independent greengrocers or try Farmrocket, an on-demand delivery app that can hook you up with the freshest farm produce in just 30 minutes. It’s best to cook from scratch, but if you can’t kick convenience, Allplants delivers frozen plant-based dishes.
Palm oil is public enemy number one if deforestation is a cause close to your heart – its cultivation is a big blow to biodiversity. You’ll find a large number of products stocked in supermarkets contain it, from soap to cereal. It’s worth reading the small print to avoid feeding the appetite for this environmentally unfriendly ingredient. Selfridges was the first major UK retailer to make all its own-brand foods palm oil-free and you can search for products without it on ethicalsuperstore.com.
If you do occasionally eat meat – and there are arguments in favour of retaining some animals in the food system, as mooted in our feature on regenerative agriculture – choosing high-welfare, grass-fed and free-range meats from responsible farmers is a great way to be greener. Try buying from purveyors such as Pipers Farm and The Ethical Butcher.
Reusable coffee cups are wonderfully visible these days – the Circular NOW Cup is super-recyclable and already recycled (it’s made from recycled single-use cups) as well as affordable. When brewing at home, you may suspect that pods are the least eco-friendly option, but they do at least ensure minimal waste, thanks to a precise serving. Always seek out Fairtrade coffee and indie brands that supply pods that are compatible with your machine and are made from fully recyclable aluminium or are properly compostable – Halo is a good choice. When it comes to what you serve it with, there is much to consider, such as selecting plant milks with more modest water requirements for growing and lower carbon emissions from distribution. If you’re in the UK, maybe avoid almond milk from California and aim for a locally produced oat or pea substitute that’s transparent about its production.
There’s been a big spike in sustainable drinks, which aim for positive impact and sensitive production. Toast is a social enterprise that brews lagers and ales using surplus fresh bread that would otherwise go to waste. Sapling Spirits vodka is a British brand that plants a tree when you buy a bottle of its tipple (and you can even keep track of your tree), while Lost Years rum invests in turtle hatchlings (plus it offsets its carbon emissions by planting seagrass in Puerto Rico). And if you like tequila, be sure to look for a bat-friendly label – this means the producer has allowed for a decent percentage of agave plants to be free from pesticides and allowed to flower to provide the nectar to feed bats. Classic brands tweaking their methods is good news too – Ruinart Champagne has introduced eco-designed packaging to replace its traditional gift box. The Champagne house is also marking this new Second Skin natural-fibre wrap with a donation to Conservation International to help plant more than half a million trees globally.
We’re wising up to the traceability of all materials, and scrutinising supply chains is important, whether it’s food, travel or fashion. Reformation’s new Good Earth Cotton jeans use FibreTrace technology, which allows textiles to be tracked from source to shop. Unisex merino-wool jumpers from Sheep Inc are carbon negative – the company removes 10 times more carbon from the atmosphere than the production process contributes, through investment in biodiversity projects vetted by a panel of climate-change experts. You also get a tag on your jumper that tracks a sheep back in New Zealand on the farm your wool was produced at – the idea being to put you more in touch with where your clothes come from. Smart sweaters, literally. Baukjen – and its sister maternity label, Isabella Oliver – can account for 90 per cent of fibres in its products as responsibly sourced, with full transparency on each garment, which is what all manufacturers should aim for – little wonder it’s the highest-scoring British B Corp fashion label.
Step out in trainers from a brand that provides a clear recipe of its footwear’s ingredients and puts a spring in your step. Veja’s Marlin running trainer is light, comfy and made from 62 per cent bio-based and recycled materials (typically running shoes are made from petroleum-based plastics). Allbirds’ insanely light Tree Toppers, meanwhile, are high tops made from sustainably sourced eucalyptus pulp with a Brazilian sugarcane-based sole – the world’s first carbon-negative green EVA. Sweet. Merino-wool slippers are the signature of Giesswein, but it’s the slip-ons we’re loving for summer. The company has a dazzling zero per cent wasted material policy, local production and its ballet flats are lightweight, perfect for sun-kissed travels and easy to pack. Made from recycled ocean PET plastic and with a 100 per cent biodegradable sole, they can be worn on many a break then chucked straight into the washing machine.
We’ve seen sunglasses and flip-flops fashioned from captured ocean plastics, and now there’s Tom Ford’s 002 Ocean Plastic Watch, made using 32 bottles of plastic waste taken from the ocean. Ford has also partnered with ocean-cleaning activists and advisors Lonely Whale, to launch the Tom Ford Plastic Innovation Prize to find a replacement for plastic packaging.
Fjällräven is a favourite Scandi backpack producer and now it’s going the extra mile in displaying a circular model, thanks to its collection putting leftover fabrics to good use. The Samlaren range – Swedish for ‘gatherer’ – is a lesson in repurposing salvage from the company’s mills to create a limited-edition assortment of bags, jackets and totes.
Make a splash with swimwear that aims for a positive impact. Away That Day’s products are made using a thread created from regenerated waste including ocean plastics, nylon scraps and ghost fishing nets (commercial nets that have been lost, abandoned or discarded at sea) – which anyone who’s watched Seaspiracy knows are serious issues. Love Brand & Co shines a light on endangered species through its printed swimming trunks for boys and men, working closely with leading charity partners to support wildlife.
Need to take a towel on your travels? Anaskela is a beautifully designed lightweight, super-absorbent and quick-drying beach towel that folds away to a slip of a thing. It’s also made from recycled plastic bottles, as is Hug At Home’s Hug Rug Trellis Throw – a dream for adding the glam to glamping.
If you have a newborn, a Kura Organic Baby Wrap is a snuggly sustainable blanket that fits into your car seat or buggy. Organic cotton is better for little ones, because it’s grown without the use of chemicals, and Kura has Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. Cotton is a seriously environmentally demanding crop, and industrialised farming using pesticides and GMO strains is pretty ecologically unfriendly, especially as it requires so much water, which is another reason why fast fashion is not a friend to the planet. When it comes to boutique bed linen suppliers, Lily and Mortimer is an organic fairtrade bedding brand for both nurseries and big people’s bedrooms.
Investing more in goods that last longer is an excellent goal. Made in Scotland, The Travelwrap Company’s kitten-soft cashmere wraps are sustainably sourced. The company also offers a reconditioning service: small holes that might result from snagging or moth damage can be repaired at its mill, so your shawl or blanket lasts as long as can be. Lots of mainstream brands are innovating around the mending theme too – Toast, for instance, is launching an in-store repair service called Toast Renewal.
Tengri’s fabrics are made from the precious fibres of the rare indigenous Mongolian yak and camel as a sustainable alternative to cashmere, and can be found in London’s most prestigious locations, from Savile Row to The Savoy’s Royal Suite. The company’s sustainable practices have enabled more than 4,500 nomadic herder families to establish co-operative businesses in the Khangai region of western Mongolia, and now it’s inviting guests to be part of Tengri Travel, to support conservation of culture and nature through sustainable luxury expeditions – pack one if its super-soft travel blankets to keep you cosy along the way.
Less is more is a good mantra, and beauty brands that really think about their packaging are always favourites of ours. Green People’s One Balm is a multi-purpose balm suitable for all: an ethical botanic formulation in a compostable pot. We love Weleda for working with recycling heroes TerraCycle to both recycle its packaging and raise money for the Global Penguin Society; its Skin Food is a great panacea. Cosmydor is an upmarket, certified-organic, highest-quality French brand that only uses glass and aluminium in its packaging. Solid shampoos from Davines will convert anyone into kicking the bottle.
The bathroom is one of the best places to strive for less plastic. LastObject from Danish product designer Isabel Aagaard is responsible for a fully reusable non-cotton cotton bud – LastSwab, a hygienic washable little beauty, is made to replace 1,000 single-use cotton buds. Brushd provides electric toothbrush heads for Oral-B and Philips Sonicare toothbrushes and will recycle your old toothbrush head when you post it back in the pre-paid compostable bag.
Avoiding single-use feminine products is a good goal (on average, those who menstruate use around 11,000 disposable products during their reproductive lifetime, and sanitary products generate 200,000 tonnes of waste per year in the UK). Saalt menstrual cups come from a certified B Corp, which donates two per cent of the revenue from its cups to fund initiatives in menstrual health in parts of the world that really need it. Greener loo paper can make a difference every day too – Cheeky Panda toilet tissue, made from 100 per cent bamboo fibre, and ethical supplier Who Gives a Crap are always a joy to spot in hotel bathrooms, since you know their businesses donate to charity and supply loos for those who need them.
As cute and cuddly as they may be, most pets have a significant carbon footprint, from their food to their waste. A lot of pet food contributes to deforestation due to the crops or livestock required – aim for organic, but not human-grade ingredients, better if it’s by-products, such as offal. Best of all, buy in bulk (we like Lily’s Kitchen). If you have a cat, go for biodegradable litter and for dogs, definitely choose fully compostable option The Green Poop Bag – especially as the company is hatching plans for pet poop to be converted into biofuel.
A great way to naturally improve your own environment is with air-purifying plants rather than imported cut flowers. But if you really do want to send blooms, Flowers from the Farm ensures low-mile bouquets. Seedboms are a great gift to spread some floral joy – these little guerrilla gardening grenades are filled with organic peat-free compost and seeds for wildflowers or herbs, and you simply throw them somewhere to get growing.
Sustainability is about putting our money where it can do the most to influence what matters to us – and considering what we’re planting for tomorrow. The financial system is definitely upping its green game and divesting itself of fossil fuels. For example, the government is launching a green savings bond through National Savings and Investments (NS&I) this summer. The best bank to invest with is Triodos, as endorsed by Friends of the Earth – it considers the cultural, social and environmental impact of where it puts your money.
There’s even a more eco-friendly option when it comes to sex accessories: Gaia from Blush Novelties is a biodegradable vibrator made from a starch-based bioplastic. And, needless to say, when it comes to toys for any audience, you should always aim to cut out the plastic.
Aerende has been working to educate us on the importance of non-toxic candles. This social-impact homewares brand created by Condé Nast Traveller contributing editor Emily Mathieson sells scented slow-burners crafted in Wales from European rapeseed wax (so as not to risk the health of users or makers and since most other vegetable waxes are ecologically dubious, she informs us). Each box is made from recycled coffee cups or FSC-certified paper in the Lake District, with wicks made from non-toxic linen and cotton – and every batch provides training and employment for adults with learning disabilities.
And finally, if you want to do a little more without buying more stuff, a powerful way to donate to those working to protect the biosphere is through Milkywire. We love this platform for democratising philanthropy, which empowers hands-on environmentalists by connecting donations to individuals and organisations on the frontline and allowing you to follow their progress. This pleasingly seamless, user-friendly app also enables you to get updates on how every penny is being spent on the grass-roots initiatives you choose to support. Here you know that 80 per cent of every donation goes directly to important work in the field – planting trees, protecting marine life, supporting conservation – with 10 per cent going towards helping organisations with everything from compliance and marketing to establishing corporate funding partnerships, and 10 per cent covering Milkywire’s tech and transactional costs.
Transparency is key, and understanding where our money goes, every time we spend it, is one of the best things we can do for the planet. Even if you only make one switch or two to your spending – or if you share one of these sustainable shopping tips or pieces of canny consumer advice with friends or family – it’s the ripple effect that helps lead to change.
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