The expense of sustainability

How to make deliberate choices for you


by Laura Gisbourne

'For me, and I’m sure I’m far from alone in this, it would be a luxury to [...] choose organic, fair-trade, locally-sourced and sustainable products over the cheapest available offers.

So many times I’ve found myself wandering around various supermarkets despairing internally (and sometimes verbally) that ‘I’m too poor to have morals’. Of course this is utter nonsense, morals aren’t based on finances, but on your beliefs that have stemmed from your life experiences. Yet, although I tend to be channeling my inner drama queen rather than my inner diplomatic philosopher when wailing about my lack of funds as I stand under the supermarket spotlight holding a bunch of fair-trade organic bananas above my head, there remains a fundamental and unoriginal point. For me, and I’m sure I’m far from alone in this, it would be a luxury to be able to consistently be able to choose organic, fair-trade, locally-sourced and sustainable products over the cheapest available offers. I am not poor. I have a steady full time job that pays above the minimum wage. I can afford to pay my rent. I sometimes manage to save or donate to various causes, after I’ve paid my bills and bought my necessities. I even manage to splash out on some baking supplies, plants, or an occasional day trip with friends. But I still get a warm glow that comes only from having the rare financial freedom to buy my favourite brand of palm-oil free, sustainably sourced, no-added ‘nasties’ peanut butter at just under £5 a jar.


From listening to those I admire; those who live mindfully, ethically, and offer the advice I’m most likely to follow, I’ve come to the realisation that to maintain a sustainable lifestyle you really need two things. The first thing you need is education, education and education. Teach yourself the meaning of terminology: ‘organic’ means there was no use of harmful pesticides, ‘fair-trade’ implies that farmers get a fair price for their labour, ‘palm-oil free’ signifies the product does not contribute to deforestation, and ‘locally-sourced’ tends to point out that the product was sourced, wait for it...locally. The second thing I think you need is permission to prioritise your own needs, but I’ll come on to that in a bit.

'The choices I make during my reluctant food shop lean naturally towards my life ideals: choosing quality, wholesome produce over quantity.'

I am a vegetarian who hates food shopping and hates spending money. Although I love cooking, the idea of going to get ingredients often reduces my inspiration to tomatoes and cheese on toast. I would much rather grow my own vegetables and rear my own chickens for eggs and live off egg-fried broccoli. But I do not own a farm, a garden, or an allotment, and I do not have green-fingers. When occasionally I do try to grow herbs in my windowsill pot, the chives are the only ones that seem to make an appearance (it doesn’t seem to bother the herb Gods that I didn’t actually plant any chives). So, to compensate, the choices I make during my reluctant food shop lean naturally towards my life ideals: choosing quality, wholesome produce over quantity. I turn to organic local veg when possible. If I can’t buy freshly ground fair-trade coffee I’ll either go without coffee or steal some from my long-suffering housemates. I prefer the honey that comes from individual bee-keepers but rarely can afford it (a jar can set you back at least a fiver), so I either pick homemade jam or if my sweet nectar craving is strong that week I’ll buy the £1 jar of commercially produced bee ambrosia. My point is, I chose deliberately. Because of my dislike of shopping, I can’t do it mindlessly, so making informed choices when I spend my money comes naturally to me. In this sense I’m quite lucky.


When updating your wardrobe, ‘sustainability’ can be addressed in a myriad of ways too. You can now shop for brand new clothes that are made from sustainable materials, or you could buy a Primark top for £1 in a charity shop. Buying second hand is arguably equally sustainable as buying ethically made but brand-new clothes. Recent research done by WRAP, an organisation working with Governments to increase the use of sustainable resources, revealed that an estimated £140 million worth (350,000 tonnes) of used clothing goes to landfill in the UK every year. Making second-hand purchases rather than buying a brand new bamboo whatnot could work out as not only cheaper for you but also better for reducing the rate of new items manufactured in the clothing industry. I’m still guilty of buying brand new clothes occasionally, but since learning about how the textiles industry contributes significantly to the world’s waste I only buy new probably 1 in 10 times, and I am always aware of the decision making behind my purchase.

'I’ve worn the same red dress to three weddings - with different guests every time who’s going to know?'

For the past four years I’ve only owned two brand-new extra-wonderful outfits, which I've worn to weddings, balls and dinners. So I’ve worn the same red dress to three weddings - with different guests everytime who’s going to know? But if you’d rather have a new outfit for each occasion, then you do you. Consider buying second hand or ethically made pieces, or even hiring a dress or borrowing one from a friend. If your absolute perfect outfit is commercially made and contributes nothing to the environment, acknowledge that and choose it anyway if that's what you want to do. Giving yourself permission to go a little rouge once in a while will help you in the long run when choosing sustainably.

'Consider your impact on the world when you can afford to, but when that is not an option, choose how you need to live your life to be happy.'

You should always be your first priority, and not just when it comes to shopping. Sustainable choices mean different things to different situations; remember to make sustainable choices for you. Buying organic is nice, but not at the expense of being able to afford the food you need. How can you take care of the world if you are not taking care of yourself? This is your life. Consider your impact on the world when you can afford to, but when that is not an option, choose how you need to live your life to be happy.



Laura aims to follow a mindful lifestyle. Although she has a philosophy degree, baking is her passion and she is actively working towards using only sustainable ingredients in all she makes at home and at work. One day she hopes to travel the world finding happiness by carrying only the bare necessities on her back.