What You Can Do
01 Change the way you shop
Follow our ethical shopping pyramid to benefit your health and our environment. Your food will not have travelled as far to reach your plate, it will stay fresher for longer and you will be eating seasonally, which tastes better, is cheaper and better for the environment.
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.
Hover over the pyramid for an
explanation for each section
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
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
- Know that the profits go directly to the family farm.
To find a farmers' market in your local area visit www.farmersmarkets.org.au
Community Supported Agriculture
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.
* including Coles, Woolworths, Thomas Dux, Costco, Aldi and NQR
** including IGA, Leo's and Ritchies
02 Instigate household meat free days
Reducing your meat intake is one of the most powerful things you can do to reduce your impact on the environment.
The environmental implications of meat production and consumption are many and include:
- Methane emissions from animal grazing, which make up one of the largest contributors to Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.1
- It takes an estimated 50,000 litres of water to produce 1 kg of beef.2
- Animal industries cause around 92% of all land degradation in Australia.3
- The world is set to run out of ocean fish by 2048 if current demand continues.4
You can read more about the environmental impacts of eating meat here.
03 Buy local, seasonal, certified organic produce
There are so many health and environmental benefits of buying organic, seasonal produce. You can read more about these in the organic sceptics section.
Buying organic or biodynamic produce is better for the environment because no synthetic chemicals, pesticides or genetically modified organisms are used. Organic producers are often smaller family farmers, so by purchasing organic produce you are supporting them and the local economy.
Some farmers' market producers are not certified organic, but follow organic farming principles, so always ask.
Buying produce in season is also important, and there are many reasons for this. Out-of-season foods (like tomatoes in winter, for instance) have been grown in artificial conditions, or grown far away, picked prematurely and transported long distances to get to your local shops.
When we eat foods out of season, we miss out on eating food at it's prime - when it tastes best and has a higher nutritional value.
We also miss out on eating a varied diet - when you eat seasonally, you break out of the rut of buying the same fruit and vegetables all year round. You learn to get excited and celebrate every time a new food comes into season!
Food in season is also cheaper as it is usually plentiful and fewer resources have gone into growing it.
Check out our free downloadable pocket Seasonal Produce Guide HERE
04 Reduce waste and buy a compost bin
In Australia we waste $5.2 billion worth of food each year.5 This food requires the same resources to grow and be transported, so we are effectively throwing food, energy and resources down the drain.
You can reduce food waste by planning your meals and trying to avoid over-ordering when dining out or buying take-away ' you will also save money.
Finally, feed leftover food to your chooks or compost any leftovers so that they can be turned into soil for your home vegie garden. Using a compost bin or worm farm for your food scraps can reduce the garbage you send to landfill by up to 50%.6 Using a home composting system also reduces your greenhouse gas emissions because you are preventing the methane emissions that occur when organic waste breaks down in the oxygen-starved environment of landfill.
05 Ethical and sustainable meat and seafood
When purchasing meat or seafood always source free range and organic options from ethical and sustainable producers, similar to those featured in our book, The Sustainable Table. For more information see Meet your Meat and Fishy Business.
06 Eat whole foods, not processed foods
Whole foods are foods that have not been processed or refined. These include unpolished grains, fruit and vegetables and unprocessed meats. Whole foods do not contain added salt, sugar, flavouring agents or preservatives.
This means that less energy and resources have gone into producing them, and most of them can be bought free from packaging. They are not only healthier for you but they also have a much lower environmental impact.
07 Grow your own food
Growing your own food reduces your food miles to food steps! It reduces your contribution to climate change, enables you to eat seasonally, reduces the money you need to spend on food and gives you a greater connection with how food is grown. If you have enough space also get some chooks as they provide you with daily eggs and reduce your waste by eating your food scraps.
08 Avoid packaging
These days more and more fresh food items are being unnecessarily packaged in plastic for ease of transport. On average, each Australian sends almost 1 tonne of waste to landfill each year.7
To reduce your packaging waste:
- Make a rule not to buy fresh produce that has been pre-packaged.
- Find a local co-op or food store that sells non-perishable items such as rice and lentils in bulk and take your own containers, otherwise buy in bulk and distribute it amongst your friends and family.
- Take your own shopping bags.
- Don't use plastic bags to separate fresh produce, just put them all in your basket.
- Make food from scratch and freeze excess rather than buying packaged meals.
- Reuse glass jars for preserving food.
- Use fresh, rather than tinned produce where possible i.e. tomatoes.
- Shop at farmers' markets where very little packaging is used.
09 Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Many people think it is a good thing to have a full bin of recyclables at the end of the week in comparison to their general waste bin which goes to landfill. Although this is good, there is still embodied energy in transporting and recycling products into something else.
The best thing you can do is reduce your packaging, reuse what you can and use your recycling bin as a last resort.
10 Ask questions
As a consumer you have the power to avoid purchasing items that do not fit your environmental and ethical standards. The only way that shops, restaurants and supermarkets will change what they serve or stock is if sales decline and they recognise that their customers want something else. Remember to carry your sustainable seafood guide in your wallet and remember to ask these questions:
- Is the meat organic or free range?
- Where was the seafood sourced? How was it caught? Is the species over-fished?
- Is the produce organic?
- Was the produce grown locally?
11 Download our Checklist
Print a copy of our 10 Ways to Create a Sustainable Table checklist
, and stick it on your fridge or pantry door for a daily reminder of the simple ways you can help to overcome today's environmental issues, one meal at a time. You might also like to print a copy for your work or school kitchen! Download your free copy here
, or click on the image below.
- Australian Government, 2008, 'National Greenhouse Gas Inventory' Department of Climate Change and Energy, http://www.ageis.greenhouse.gov.au/, viewed 8 November 2010.
- Cribb, J, 2010, The Coming Famine: The global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it, CSIRO Publishing 2010, p. 33
- Foran, B, Lenzen, M, Dey, C, 2005, Balancing Act: A Tripple Bottom Line Analysis of the 135 Sectors of the Economy, CSIRO
- Roach, J, 2006, 'Seafood may be gone by 2048, study says' National Geographic News, November 2 2006, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/11/061102-seafoodthreat. html, viewed 20 July 2010.
- Australian Conservation Foundation, 2007, The Green Home Guide, Victoria Edition, 2nd Edition Jan 2007, p. 32.
- Australian Conservation Foundation, 2007, The Green Home Guide, Victoria Edition, 2nd Edition Jan 2007, p. 23.
- Australian Government, Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, 2010, 'Living Greener' http://www.livinggreener.gov.au/waste/reducing-waste, viewed 14 July 2010.
- Hendrick, K, 2010, National Association of Retail Grocers of Australia, Submission to Productivity Commission.