Student’s Guide to Sustainable Shopping | Reviews | The Harvard Crimson

The best days were when I received delivery notifications from UPS and Winthrop at the same time. I jumped into the elevator, trotting down the hallway outside the building manager’s office like a happy kid on Christmas morning. As I rummaged through the lockers and trash cans, looking for my nth semester order, it seemed as if the dozens of Prime packages were smiling eagerly with me.

Online shopping is fun. There’s no denying the anticipation of waiting for a package to arrive. When you’re in college, away from home, and without a car, shopping online becomes a necessity. When you forget to pack for the cold or need an outfit for a themed event in three days, “Add to Cart” will always come to the rescue.

But after the initial dopamine boost from retail therapy wore off, wrappers and bubble wraps taunted me from the recycling bin. A haunting reminder of my overconsumption, a slight nudge that sent me into a spiral of questioning thought: did I really need it?

The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of carbon emissions per year, making it one of the biggest polluters on the planet. But it seemed to me that being an environmentalist meant owning very few of the good things: a capsule wardrobe, reusable products made from organic and recycled materials, everything neutral in color – quite the opposite of what I gravitate toward as a that a former Miss New York. Surely there had to be a way to be Earth conscious without limiting my wardrobe to basics and earth tones, with no room for fun and flexibility. So began my search for sustainable fashion and shopping habits.

Reformation likes to say “Being naked is the #1 most sustainable option. We are #2. Bad. The most sustainable option (after being naked) is just to wear what you own. Let it be acts of fast fashion giants like sheinleaders in sustainable development such as Patagoniaor your roommate’s custom crochet shop, wearing the pieces you own doesn’t emit any additional carbon into the atmosphere.

Another S-level option is borrow clothes or buy second-hand. Similar to wearing what’s in your wardrobe, nothing new is created, which means no carbon emissions from the manufacturing process. Phone a friend the next time you need a short-term outfit, especially if you only plan to wear it once.

There’s always the option of buying pre-loved clothes from local thrift stores or more upscale curators, like The clothing district. Personally, I’ve had more success online. Between Depop, thredUP, Swap, Thrifted, Poshmark, Facebook Marketplace (which I’ve heard is good for furniture?) and a billion others, there are countless opportunities for second-hand shopping.

In addition, there is always the Senior Sale at the end of the year.

Ideally, each brand would sell ethically and sustainably produced clothing at a price everyone can afford. But it’s no secret that some brands are more ethical than others, and many sustainable companies are brandishing high prices and limited size ranges.

If you can buy from a durable brand, go for it, but the reality is most of us can’t afford to spend more than $100 per piece every time we shop. That doesn’t mean we can’t do anything.

Sustainability is a sliding scale.

Literally: Of course, you rates apparel brands on their eco-friendly practices, or lack thereof, on a scale from “We Avoid” (Fabletics, Fashion Nova) to “Excellent” (ARMEDANGELS, MATE the Label). Several mainstream brands revolve around “It’s a Start”, such as Dickies, Nike and Levi’s. We should all be aiming for a more sustainable brand than the one we’ve bought from in the past.

No matter where you buy, how you buy always makes a difference. Online purchases can be greener than shopping in stores – but only if you do it right.

It starts with the decision to buy online or in-store. By doing both, you put both your personal vehicle and a delivery truck on the road when you could have had one. If you know Staples doesn’t carry your favorite pen, order it online with the rest of your stationery, ideally in one package. Head to CVS in the Square if you need some quick snacks or batteries for your LEDs instead of buying one online and the other in store.

Then opt for standard delivery whenever possible. Although tempting, select next day or other express shipping options increases carbon emissions by forcing parcel carriers to deliver on a half-empty truck. For dedicated Amazon Primers, try placing less frequent orders and combine packages when possible – it makes a trip to the mailroom easier anyway. And if you really want a gold star, you can collect your packages from the nearest Amazon locker (there’s one in Central – get bubble tea at the same time as a reward).

The advantage of these guidelines is that they can be applied to any online purchase, regardless of brand.

Creating a more sustainable world means making changes that are lasting for you. No one has to do everything, but everyone has to do something. Take the time to buy pieces that you will wear and maintain the clothes that you already own. If a beauty queen can be proud to repeat her outfits, I’m sure you can too.

Jordan A. Sanchez ’24 is a physics concentrator at Winthrop House. Its “Everyday Environmentalist” column appears every other Friday.

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