Can it be true? Is holiday shopping really upon us? As we turn towards the upcoming holiday season, many in the NWEI community are asking how we can shop sustainably and give socially responsible gifts. A recent Choices for Sustainable Living group in Kingston, WA at the Stillwaters Environmental Education Center wrestled with the question and wrote about it in the Kingston Community News. Read on for Naomi Maasberg’s musings on how to make choices for a sustainable future.

It seems like summer is barely over and it’s time to think about holiday shopping.

The holiday gift-buying season will be here soon! This is the time of year that gets some of us to the malls and the stores even more often than we would ever like to be. It was in the midst of that shopping season that a sustainability discussion group at Stillwaters Environmental Center was discussing the topic of “Sustainable Buying.” This is one session of the course, with readings from “Choices for Sustainable Living” by the Northwest Earth Institute.

While it was tempting and we felt motivated after the discussion, most of us in the class did not abandon our Christmas shopping entirely. We did discover some good ideas about how to make purchases count and help to determine the real environmental impact of products we might buy. These would apply no matter what the season, of course!

Any product or service is sustainable if it is made, used and disposed of in such a way that it could continue to be made, used and disposed of indefinitely. This is because it would not be extracting any additional resources from the Earth to do so.

In the production of a product, the natural resources used need to be available from generation to generation; this is what sustainability is all about — making sure future generations will have adequate resources to support them. Also, the waste from a sustainable product must stay within the manufacturing loop and not build up or cause pollution.

Right now, there are very few totally sustainable products in the marketplace, but some are much better than others, of course. As shoppers, there are some things we can look for and things to ask ourselves.

– Do I really need the product? Even if a product is “green,” if you don’t really need it, it’s better not to use up the resources — the greenest product is the one you don’t buy! Often, second-hand things will suffice or be better, and certainly not use up more resources.

– Is it safe to use? Check for toxins that are in so many products. They’re not good for you or the environment.

– Is it durable, well made, of good quality that will last? Inexpensive things that wear out quickly require replacement resources to be used. If you need to use some of Earth’s resources, make them last!

– Is it made from recycled or renewable resources? Are the materials taken in a sustainable way? Are the raw materials used renewable ones, like plants? Or non-renewable, like petroleum? How much of the content is recycled goods? Are the materials organically grown or sustainably harvested? It should have this information on the label.

– How will I dispose of it? Think ahead and look for things that have little packaging, and packaging that can be easily recycled. Then, think ahead to when you or someone else no longer needs this product; how can you dispose of it in a way that will not put it in the landfill? Can it be re-used? Recycled?

– How far was this shipped? We get products from all over the world now and think little of it. But many natural resources are used up in transporting things. “Buying locally” is not enough if the product has been shipped to our local store from across the world!

When shopping, try to think beyond the item you see in front of you. Consider all it took to put it in front of you, and ask yourself if it is worth it.

*If you are in the Kingston area, Stillwaters Environmental Education Center is starting NWEI’s newest discussion course, Hungry for Change: Food, Ethics & Sustainability. If you are interested in joining this group, call (360) 297-1226.