Buying Groceries the Sustainable Way

Good news: With every trip to the supermarket, you have an opportunity to vote "sustainable" with your dollars. Bad news: So many factors weigh into "sustainable," it's hard to know the best choice.

Grocery shopping can be agonizing. For example, if you like to compare yogurt to find the most sustainable choice, you might spend 15 minutes in the dairy section alone. You might go for the largest size, so as to cut down on packaging. But that one comes from Greece, so not very energy-wise with all the travel. Then you decide to use organic as your criterion, until you see that they're in small, single-serve sizes, and still traveled far to get here.

Then you remember that a local award-winning dairy produces an organic yogurt, sold in large, recyclable glass bottles. Perfect! But it's not carried here — so you’d have to make another, longer fossil-fuel-consuming trip.

By now you’re paralyzed in the dairy section.

If this happens to you, try the following hierarchy:

  • First comes humane and ethical operating practices (fair-trade chocolate, for example);

  • Second, buy local (conventionally grown lettuce from nearby generates less petroleum consumption than the organic from four states away);

  • Third, seek out the product with the least packaging (buying in bulk, whenever possible); and

  • Finally, go organic.

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