Reducing your eco-footprint is not as hard as you may think. Simply by starting to consider your own consumption patterns and altering the way you shop, you can make a huge difference. In this section you’ll find some practical and achievable things you can do to reduce your environmental impact.
* including Coles, Woolworths, Thomas Dux, Costco, Aldi and NQR
** including IGA, Leo’s and Ritchies
See an interactive version of this pyramid at the Sustainable Table website.
In Australia the two largest retailers, Coles and Woolworths, control almost 80% of the market, making Australia one of the most concentrated grocery markets in the world.8 Supermarkets have huge buying power and can often source and sell produce at a cheaper rate than independent stores. The downside is that this centralised food system pressures farmers into providing cheaper produce, which is what has seen many farmers turn to factory farming and other intensive farming practices that cause environmental degradation.
Supermarkets also tend to stock only varieties of fruit and vegetables that have a longer shelf life, resulting in a loss of biodiversity, making us vulnerable to shocks in the food system, such as disease and pest outbreaks.
Despite this, blaming supermarkets for the problems with our food system would be wrong. They are simply responding to consumer demand. Supermarkets will only ever stock what generates a profit, so the power lies with us. Coles, for example, made the decision to phase out the inhumane use of sow stalls on their own brand pork products after consumers and animal welfare groups voiced their concern.
Remember, every dollar you spend is a vote for the type of food system you would like to be a part of.
Community or independent supermarkets
These supermarkets are similar to large supermarkets, however they are smaller businesses therefore allow you to support your local economy and often give back to the community through giving programs.
Non-organic box delivery, greengrocer, local market
Non-organic box delivery, greengrocers and local markets such as Queen Victoria and South Melbourne Market are different from a farmers’ market, as most sellers buy their produce from the Wholesale Market. At Wholesale Markets in Australia a middleman on-sells produce to retailers (although some large farmers directly attend the wholesale market as well). Although you support small business when shopping at one of these outlets, the downside is that the wholesaler and retailer take a share of the farmer’s profit. There is also no requirement to buy from local farmers or produce that’s in season.
Organic grocer or organic box delivery
Organic grocers and box delivery services provide consumers with convenience and still provides a way for you to purchase food that is healthier, tastier, and more environmentally sound. Purchasing through a grocer or box system reduces some of the share of the profit that the farmer would otherwise be receiving if purchasing direct from the farmer. Additionally there is no requirement to source local produce, so be sure to enquire about this when shopping with them.
Accredited farmers’ markets
Farmers’ markets are a great way to shop, as they only stock locally sourced seasonal produce. Locally sourced produce travels shorter distances to reach your plate, which means less greenhouse gases are emitted.
Shop regularly at a farmers’ market and you will:
- Find out what’s in season
- Meet the farmers who actually grow the food
- Enjoy guilt-free shopping, as everything is local and free range
- Know that the profits go directly to the family farm
Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs)
CSAs involve a direct relationship between the producer/farmer and the consumer, where a group of people commit to paying a set amount for a whole season, in return for the farm’s produce which is normally delivered weekly. The upfront funding provides financial security to the farmer who can invest in production of organic or biodynamic growing practices and whole farm ecological health. Farms involved in CSAs tend to be smaller family farms growing a variety of produce.
Food Cooperative (co-op)
A food co-op is a food store/group that follows the principles of a cooperative. A cooperative is a non-profit organisation owned by members. Members are able to purchase goods (usually discounted), vote on how the co-op is run and share in any surplus generated from the co-op. Food co-ops usually sell organic and ethical food products.
Farm gate or fresh off the boat
Many smaller family farms sell produce directly from the farm. This can be a great way to shop because you get to experience the farm environment. Some fishermen also sell direct from their boat, such as Sea Bounty. Remember to use your pocket sustainable seafood guide when buying off the boat.