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27 Jun 2021

Six ways to shop more ethically - from Black Pound Day to new sustainable brands

Find out how your shopping could support your community, and the planet

It can sometimes be hard to know how to help causes you care about - but making some small changes to the way you shop could achieve just that, all while enjoying some retail therapy.

The end of June saw the first anniversary of Black Pound Day, a monthly initiative that encourages shoppers to spend with businesses owned by Black people.

Here, we explain the background behind the movement, plus five other steps you could take to support causes you care about.

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1. Support Black Pound Day

Founded by Swiss, who found fame in the Noughties with UK hip-hop act the So Solid Crew, Black Pound Day aims to 'address the economic inequalities and imbalances affecting Black businesses and entrepreneurs in the UK and global diasporic communities'.

How to achieve this? The idea is simple: on the first Saturday of each month, people from all communities are encouraged to shop with Black-owned retailers in the hope that this will become more normalised.

Swiss says he wants to transform people from 'unconscious consumers to intentional spenders'.

The Black Pound Day website lists products from black-led businesses and also offers a business directory, so you can search for shops and retailers near you.

2. Shop local

Buying goods from local retailers can have many advantages.

For starters, it can benefit your local community, particularly if you shop with smaller independent businesses. If you have a diverse local high street and want to keep it that way, supporting the businesses that make it unique is a practical step you can take.

What's more, the shop probably employs local people and may even sell items that have been made locally. The business rates paid for the premises will go to the local council, which in turn can spend it on services for the community.

Seasonal locally grown or made food is likely to have a smaller carbon footprint if none of the ingredients have been shipped from abroad.

3. Choose sustainable brands

Some retailers and brands are working hard to offer shoppers sustainable products, and we've spotted a raft of new and existing brands coming up with innovative ways to go 'greener'.

It can be tricky knowing whether the eco options are any good though, so we've investigated the eco credentials and product quality of everything from reusable bottles and freezer bags to energy-efficient fridges and recycled toilet paper - to name just a few.

We've also launched a Which? Eco Buy logo so you know which products make the smallest environmental impact while still doing a great job - look for it when you're exploring our product reviews.

4. Look out for well-known ethical labels

A number of industry bodies exist to make sure product manufacturers deliver high-quality products, and treat their environment and workers fairly in the process.

Here are some of the most common labels to look out for when you're shopping:

  • Fairtrade: Fairtrade products ensure fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. It also ensures local sustainability, decent working conditions and better prices.
  • Rainforest Alliance: Growers must meet 'sustainable agricultural principles', which include conserving local wildlife, minimising soil erosion, treating workers fairly and reforesting where possible.
  • Red Tractor: This logo appears on food and drink products that have been produced, packed, stored and transported in the UK, and also signifies animal welfare and environmental protection.
  • Soil Association Organic: This certifies that raw or processed food has passed both the EU Organic Regulation and the Soil Association standards, ensuring it really is organic.
  • Floverde Sustainable Flowers (FSF): This is an independent social and environmental standard for the flower sector. It ensures working conditions, occupational health, environmental best practices and the protection of biodiversity.

We've recently reported on plans to launch a new eco label on the front of food packaging from autumn 2021.

Currently a pilot scheme, it's hoped the new label will give consumers another way to compare food products for sustainability, as well as encouraging manufacturers to find more environmentally friendly ways to produce food.

Find out more:understanding food labels

5. Buy pre-owned items

According to UK charity Clothes Aid, 350,000 tonnes of clothing goes to landfill every year - equating to £140m-worth of used but still wearable clothing.

One way to cut down on this huge problem is to buy second-hand or pre-owned items. And there's a growing list of ways to do it: many high street charity shops have also gone online, in addition to online marketplaces and local listing sites such as Freecycle.

What you buy will still be new to you, and you'll be giving a second life to something that may well have sat in someone else's home, unused, for years. Plus, you might get a bargain in the process.

It's worth bearing this in mind the next time you're about to throw something away, too. Ikea has recently started buying back unwanted second-hand furniture, but in general you'll probably have to turn to eBay or a charity shop.

6. Question whether you really need to buy it

Many of the UK's landfill, pollution and other waste problems could be solved if people didn't buy things they don't need.

Rather than adding to or replacing the things you have, it's worth considering whether you need it. Are you buying it for the sake of it? Can your existing belongings be repaired or updated, or used in a different way?

This story was updated on 29 June 2021 to add details about plans for a new eco food label.