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If you have ever taken a psychology class then you have probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – This looks at the needs that influence our choices and our behaviours. We have taken and adapted it into a simple idea of getting something you’d like but with a few steps to think about before jumping straight in and buying it new.
In an environmentally friendly economy going straight out to buy a new item every time is not the answer. Working your way through the Eco-Buyerarchy of Needs will allow you to take a more eco-friendly approach to obtaining it. This image allows you to work your way up the pyramid, working your way from ‘Use What You Have’, through to ‘Buy’ and trying to achieve what you’d like from each section before moving on to the next. The goal in using the Buyerarchy of needs is to minimise our impact on the planet by taking other steps before making that purchase which in most occasions will have the most detrimental effect on the planet.
We will take a look at each section of the pyramid starting from the bottom:
The most eco-friendly thing you can do is keep using what you have. This base level is where the ideal eco-friendly solution is found. Take a moment and think, is there anything you can use that will help to achieve the same goal or purpose? If you don’t have a crazy amount of stuff surrounding you and you know exactly what you have (easier said than done in modern society) then you can maybe reuse or redesign something to fulfil the new purpose. If not have rummage around! For example if you are thinking of getting some new food storage containers and you have several empty jars that are not being used… can you take those jars and use them as your new storage containers? Perhaps you could repurpose a large old box to become a new storage box? If you know what you have it is of no benefit to you if it is broken and in bad condition, another thing to keep in mind is to look after your possessions – don’t use and abuse them. Taking care of what you already own will allow you to use them for an extended period of time and reduce the impact of having to replace them regularly. Use the food and supplies you already own before you think of getting more.
If something that you already own is broken or breaking can you get it fixed rather than purchasing a new one? You wouldn’t throw your push bike away because it has a flat tyre… you’d repair it. Taking that idea into other items in your life is easy enough. Do you really need a new laptop, are you able to reinstall the operating system and then get everything working like new again? If you can’t do it yourself, can you take it to a shop who can? Older laptops can sometimes work well with a less resource hungry (and safer) operating system such as Linux. Another popular example would be wiping your phone and doing a factory reset so you can renew and extend its life. Often we can keep what we already have if we repair part of it to restore it to its former glory, be it an upgraded hard drive in a computer or a new battery in a mobile phone. Some companies have designed products that cannot be repaired by the end user and either need to be sent to the company or an affiliated shop or thrown away – be sure to avoid buying from companies like this the next time you purchase something.
Another way to minimise your environmental impact is to simply borrow or swap the item you require with someone. This will allow you to fulfil your needs without the energy having been expended in making, creating or purchasing the item. Borrowing from friends or family is a common way but the other most common example would be a library. Schemes for bicycles, scooters and even cars are being used in cities for people who do not need to own one of said items. The idea also works for gardening equipment, tools and all sorts of other useful things that are only needed once in a while.
Is there something that you already own that you could swap for the item you need/ desire? One great site for passing on things you no longer require (and expect nothing in return for) is freecycle.org not so much of a swapping site as a site that allows you offer items or take items for free. There are sites out there such as swap.com or swapace.com that allow you to exchange and trade items you are looking to get rid of for something that someone is looking to do the same with.
This is a form of buying but generally comes in as a far cheaper option than buying new. Thrift or Second Hand Stores generally have quality used items at a much lower price than at retail. If you know you need a new shirt but aren’t fussy about the make then looking through the range of shirts on the second hand shop rack is a great way to get one for a crazy cheap price. People will often donate nearly new items so you can generally find something that will suit your needs. Other ideas such as garage sales and car boot sales are great but will definitely be more hit and miss – although there often seems to be old bikes so its a great place to pick one up. Another huge benefit of purchasing second hand is that the energy that would be used and the environmental impact that would be created has already been done, further from that you are saving an item from being thrown into landfill. You can read more about the benefits of second hand in this article Making a difference through second hand.
Making an item will require time and materials but can be cheaper and fun. Do you have the skill level required to make what you want? Will it be worth it? Can I repurpose an old sweater into a tote bag or make an old t shirt into a baby grow?
Using resources online is a great way to educate yourself on an incredible range of subjects; if you want to do then there is probably a “How to” guide floating around in cyberspace. Making something for yourself can be much more rewarding, personalised and it can also means that no new energy or materials are used to as you can salvage and use materials you already have.
Only if none of the other options are possible from the Buyerarchy of Needs then it may be time to buy. Make sure to find a retailer or a company that is reputable, preferably one where you are able to see their sustainability policy – how do they produce the items? How do they dispose of trash? Do they make sure their items are made of sustainable materials? Are the items repairable and don’t exploit people through out the process? There are many environmentally conscious retailers and manufactures out there, but beware of greenwashing where companies are jumping on the eco bandwagon to turn a profit. You can read more about greenwashing here – What is Greenwashing?
For our average purchases we may only be able to look at a few of these steps but by looking and trying different routes we are able to reduce our footprint and at least for a minimum increase our awareness.