Smart Shopping

Welcome to Good Dirt Radio, reporting on positive change… taking root.

Collectively, we all buy an enormous amount of “stuff”. And all that consumerism has an effect on the natural world. The good news here is that by applying what we learn about conservation… to spending… citizens can bring their concern for the environment into the market place. This is one of the most direct ways we can all get involved.

Corporate producers rely on demographic trends to direct their product lines. When more of us buy green products, producers get the message to make more green products and the cycle begins. Everyone can be a smarter shopper and send the right messages about what and how much we buy, how those products are made or grown, packaged and shipped.

We spoke with Jeff Yeager, a retired executive director from the nonprofit world in Washington DC. He’s the author of the Ultimate Cheapskate’s Roadmap to True Riches. He writes about enjoying life more by spending and consuming less and hits on a core issue, waste.

Yeager: Do you know that 80% of the discretionary items that Americans buy, they regret having purchased within a year of having made those purchases. One of the fastest growing industries in America is actually now the storage industry. One of the figures that I think is really startling in a world where a third of the world is literally starving to death, is that 25% of the food that Americans buy eventually ends up in the trash can, we throw it away. You know, that’s about a pound of food per person per day. You could lower your food budget by being smarter about portion control and food storage. Less than 2% of the clothing that Americans throw away is actually worn out. Fortunately, a lot of that great stuff, not just closing, but office equipment, household goods of all sorts, make an encore appearance in thrift stores. You’ll pay about a dime on a dollar, compared to what the stuff costs you new and you’re also doing a charitable act ’cause normally, thrift stores are operated by non-profit organizations that rely on folks like us to buy that stuff and liquidate it into cash that they need to carry out their non-profit missions.

Kent Ford, a video producer and founder of the Green Business Roundtable, reminds us of some basic tips that help create more sustainable lifestyles.

Ford: There are a lot of opportunities out there for a consumer looking at how they can make smart choices. It all boils down to education, figuring out what products have the lowest impact on the Earth. First thing one might ask themselves, do you really need this thing? So when you’re getting ready to buy, just look at the label. Is it made with toxic materials, is the packaging recycled or recyclable? Or is the packaging minimized so that its not going to create a big carbon footprint for that item? What size is the item and do you need that size? In many cases, buying a larger size will minimize packaging in the long run. And where was that product made? What sort of distance did it travel? The shorter the distance from your home, the less carbon footprint involved in getting it to you. All those things can help lower your carbon footprint.

Ford says there’s an unprecedented number of new, green products in the marketplace but points out that many ‘shades,’ of green products and companies, exist.

Ford: What’s the company’s ethic that produced that product? There’s a whole spectrum out there from companies doing a little marginal step better in producing something to companies that are really rolling up their sleeves and figuring out how they can, cradle to grave, make the best product possible. What you buy helps tell producers what to make.

To help get some perspective on our spending habits, Yeager recommends trying a’ fiscal fast’; not buying unnecessary things for one week a year… and using up what you have and giving away the rest. He says simplification is key to smart shopping.

Yeager: Its really not about sacrifice, its all about choices. Every time you simplify your life, three things happen. One, it costs a heck of a lot less. Secondly, its usually lighter on the Earth and third and here’s the really good news, whenever you simplify your life, it usually makes you a lot happier. Remember, the best things in life aren’t things.

Anyone can be a smarter shopper by learning details about what and how products are made or grown, packaged and shipped. There are a variety of sources for this information… including labels, libraries and the Internet. For more information about informed shopping, please visit us online at

When enough people ‘vote with their dollars’, through educated spending habits, a loud message is sent to producers and corporations … in a form they understand … the language of money.

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