Ethics in tech and e-commerce are tricky business, in part because it’s all relatively new territory.
While free two-day shipping and immediate access to thousands of products on one platform sounds like a dream, Amazon’s model only thrives at the expense of its workers and our shared planet.
Some argue that Amazon is just good at capitalism, but consumers can’t seem to shake the corporation’s ethical wrongdoings any longer. If you’re seeking alternatives to Amazon, shop with these more sustainable companies to feel good about where your money goes.
3 Reasons to Find Alternatives to Amazon
Whether your skepticism of this mega-corporation is newly founded or deeply seated, here is some quick background to illustrate the reasons consumers are choosing to stop shopping at Amazon.
1. Working Conditions & Supply Chains
Amazon has more than 1 million employees working in everything from fulfillment to corporate. Since its inception in 1994, Amazon has done everything possible to suppress workers’ rights. Time and time again, the corporation has subdued union efforts and instead forced their employees to work in grim, fast-paced, and unsupportive environments. These issues most recently gained traction during COVID-19 outbreaks at Amazon fulfillment centers and the larger population learned of the hazardous conditions in these warehouses.
A piece by The Guardian unearthed Amazon’s disregard for Chinese labor laws by employing school children in factories overnight to make Alexa and Kindle devices. These exploitative practices are commonplace for the corporation, which finds loopholes in local laws to force underage children to work for more than 10 hours a day as “interns” in hot, unhealthy conditions.
2. Environmental Footprint
To deliver all those packages within such a short timeframe, more trucks and planes are hitting the road (and skies). Not only are commercial vehicles less efficient, they often run half-empty to meet the deadline for shipment arrivals. So while diesel is technically producing less carbon dioxide emissions, it’s releasing 4x the nitrogen dioxide pollution and 22x more particulates than gas. These contribute to warming the planet, and particulates are actually the most dangerous type of air pollution because they can embed deeply into the lungs.
Receiving multiple packages over a few days to the same address from the same order is unquestionably inefficient. We’ve all opened an obscenely large cardboard box to retrieve something disproportionately tiny, like a phone charger concealed in layers of plastic and wrapping.
Amazon has long been criticized for its reliance on multiple boxes and shipping dates, but it seems to be an irreparable design flaw for the mega-corporation. Many customers choose to stomach it in exchange for the convenience of next-day delivery. Plus, the perceived benefit of free returns is actually not so free for the planet, since they cause even more pollution.
The average American household has 300,000 items, and each American wastes roughly $18,000 per year on non-essential items. While it can be nice to purchase new items every once in a while, consumption in the United States has reached a dangerous level that perpetuates hazardous supply chains and creates mountains of waste.
It would be shortsighted not to mention Amazon’s role in normalizing useless spending. The platform’s ease of purchasing, low costs, and high inventory have brought American consumption levels to staggeringly unprecedented heights.
8 Alternatives to Amazon for the Ethical Consumer
Next time you’re gearing up to check Amazon for a new product, look for these guys in your search bar instead. These Amazon alternatives are safer for workers and the environment, plus some have practices like carbon offsetting and social equity embedded directly into their business models.
1. Public Goods
For household and personal care products, plus tasty groceries, Public Goods is a one-stop-shop for ethically made, sustainable goods.
A key component of the Public Goods purchasing experience that you won’t find on Amazon is transparency. Every ingredient is thoughtfully chosen, and shoppers can rest easy knowing that controversial or dangerous chemicals are left out of each product.
Our vitamins and supplements are a great example of this. Instead of getting potentially repackaged or expired vitamins from a third-party seller on Amazon, customers receive a fresh, healthy product with everything that is and isn’t in it openly displayed on its packaging.
Public Goods makes it simple and affordable for the everyday consumer to make more environmentally-conscious purchasing decisions. Whether it’s buying tree-free toilet paper or trying zero waste products, PG is a wonderful way to build more sustainable habits. Plus, every order has free standard shipping over $45 and plants a tree!
Public Goods is a subscription service that is totally worth it.
2. REI Co-op
If you’re using Amazon to shop for clothing or outdoor goods, REI is a much better option. Not only is it a co-op, but you can also join as a lifetime member (for a mere $20) and have access to a 10% dividend on all purchases made each year. This definitely makes up the difference if you typically purchase clothing or outdoor essentials on Amazon.
REI carefully selects the brands they stock, so you can trust that they’re each doing work that’s better for the planet. For example, you might find a shirt made from 100% organically grown cotton or a bag that supports National Parks with each purchase. Plus, the employees at REI have incredible benefits and are treated fairly.
In its humble beginnings, Amazon was an online bookshop. As it’s grown, customers have noticed its scarily low prices for books and the decreasing number of independent bookstores on any given block. If you decide to stop buying anything from Amazon, make it books.
An online-only platform, Bookshop distributes profits from book sales to independent bookstores of your choice. 75% of Bookshop’s profit margin goes to these indie sellers and authors who are creating a vibrant community around books. By design, Bookshop’s mission is to help repair the bookselling industry and its tight margins by making it easy for consumers to buy local.
4. Better World Books
Another online book retailer, Better World Books is wonderful if you prefer to buy used books. This B Corporation sells used library books that would otherwise be landfilled and donates a book for every book sold. While they also offer new books, their used options run as low as $4 per book.
BWB has donated more than 29 million books, reused or recycled 372 million books, and raised $31 million for literacy programs and libraries. Consumers have the option to offset their carbon emissions when purchasing, and the company has a wonderful rewards program for those incentivized by a discount. This is a business that’s truly doing better for the world, while still selling a valuable product.
5. BLK + GRN
If you’re someone who buys natural beauty products from Amazon, BLK + GRN is for you. An entirely non-toxic and black artisan online retailer, BLK + GRN sells all the essentials for hair and body care.
Each artisan BLK + GRN works with is carefully chosen to ensure that the products are safe for use without any controversial ingredients. Whether you’re looking for sunscreen, makeup, menstrual care, or zero waste goods, you can find it all on BLK + GRN, while directly supporting black artisans and sustainable businesses.
6. Made Trade
A relatively new kid on the block, Made Trade makes it simple to shop by your values. If you’re interested in supporting fair trade, BIPOC owned, vegan, or sustainably made, simply use their menu to toggle between the most impactful products on the market.
Made Trade specializes in bringing ethical and sustainable goods to the masses through its partnerships with small businesses, independent makers, and artisans. Each partner is carefully selected to ensure that they align with one or more of Made Trade’s core values like Made in the USA, Women-Owned, Sustainable, or People of Color Owned. From clothing and shoes to decor and furniture, a purchase from Made Trade ensures that your dollars are supporting an ethical industry.
Etsy is still going strong, but the rise of Amazon has definitely overshadowed some of the vibrant creations of artists, makers, and crafters on the famous global marketplace. If you use Amazon mostly for knick-knacks, decor, or gifts, we promise Etsy is the better option. Not only are you supporting an artisan directly, but you’re also bound to get a higher quality product by using the platform.
Etsy shines in personalized goods, whether it’s an engraved cheese board or customized Christmas ornament. Homemade ceramics, prints, textiles, and vintage items are also available on Etsy, along with an array of delightfully unexpected items you might stumble upon at a flea market. But, you can browse from the comfort of your couch.
For all the obscure widgets and gadgets you typically find on Amazon, take a look at eBay. eBay is fairer to its sellers than Amazon and empowers entrepreneurs to grow their businesses in an ethical, independent manner.
While they have everything you could imagine, the site stands out in a few key areas. If you need a spare part for a broken appliance, check eBay. We’re talking obscure, like the broken paddle of your hand-me-down bread machine that’s been discontinued. Guaranteed, eBay has the part. Refurbished and used electronics also a great way to use the site, with multiple options from sellers to compare prices. Not only does this save you money, but it also saves the planet from electronic waste entering landfills and causing damage to local communities.
Skip Amazon and Shop Intentionally
In your quest to find alternatives to Amazon, consider supporting locally. Buying directly from an independent bookstore or doing curbside pick-up at your local REI or small businesses not only reduces your carbon footprint from shipping but also supports the community you’re living in.
Amazon has made it outrageously easy to make big purchases on a whim. If anything, you may find that in searching for ethical alternatives to Amazon, you realize how little you truly need to be buying in the first place.
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