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  • Writer's pictureDr. Joanne Narae

How The Buyerarchy Of Needs Will Help You Live More Sustainably 

Updated: Feb 26

by Dr. Joanne Narae


Buyerarchy of Needs. Photo credit: Sarah Lazarovic


When we buy things, we create waste. It’s not just the packaging that the item comes in and then ends up in the landfill, but all the energy and materials it took to make and transport that item. 


To live more sustainably, you need to use fewer resources. Buying fewer items may be the best way to achieve this goal. This is not easy to do in this hyper-consumeristic society that we live in.


The Buyerarchy of Needs created by Sarah Lazarovic is a great framework that helps to make our consumption patterns more sustainable. It is a good reminder that buying something should be the last resort after we have exhausted several other avenues for obtaining the items that we need or want.


It can help us to save money. It can help divert waste from landfills. It can be a way to create communities around the sharing of resources and services.


I have never been a big shopper, but the Buyerarchy of Needs can be applied to any item that you are thinking of buying from clothes to electronics to food. It helps you to evaluate what you want to buy. 


The first question that you should ask yourself is: Do you really need it?


If you go through and determine that you need it or you admit that you WANT it, then you can go through the Buyerarchy of Needs starting from the bottom and working your way up the pyramid.


I will walk you through the Buyerarchy of Needs pyramid with some examples to help you integrate more sustainable consumption habits into your life. I have modified the Buyerarcy of Needs a little so some of the actions on the pyramid may involve spending money, but it should be less expensive and less wasteful than buying a new object. Spending money is not a bad thing, but sometimes we do it without giving it much thought. Remember that it is a framework and not a set of rigid rules to follow.


USE WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE


Think about the item you want and what you want to use it for. The best way to start is to try thinking of alternatives that can accomplish the same goal as the item you want. You may already have something that can do the job.


This can be helpful for when you are looking to reduce your use of single-use items and looking to lead a more zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle. You can get creative and use what you already have instead of buying new items. 


You may want to repair, tune-up, repaint, upgrade or otherwise freshen up what you have so that it works and looks better. For instance, if you are looking to buy a new bike but you have an existing bike, you may take it in for a tune-up before you start riding it again so that everything works smoothly. You may even change or upgrade a part or two to improve the bike’s performance. A few changes can make a huge difference!


Using what you have is especially useful in cooking where you can substitute one ingredient for another. If I’m looking to make a recipe and don’t have a particular ingredient, I search the Internet for similar recipes that use ingredients that I have. Not only does it save you a trip to the store, but you can also reduce food waste by not buying items that you will rarely use or use in small quantities.


Going along with using what you have, you should try to keep items that you use in good working order for as long as possible. So, keeping the item well-maintained, cleaned, or repaired helps that item to last longer. The longer your possessions remain in good working order, the longer you can use the item without needing to replace it.


BORROW, SHARE, OR RENT


If you don’t need the item for an extended period of time or will only need the item a few times, you may want to consider borrowing, sharing, or renting the item. These are different ways for you to temporarily use something that you don’t own.


Lending amongst our family, friends, and coworkers can help to greatly reduce the number of new items that you need to buy. There may even be lending libraries which expands the term to items beyond books, such as tools, toys, games, kitchen appliances, and sporting goods. If there isn’t a lending library in your area, you may want to start one.


I’ve added sharing and renting to this category because you may not be able to use an item for free in the case that someone wants the item back after you are done using it, so in that case, you may share or rent the item. This category builds on the concept of a sharing economy where we share resources rather than buying and consuming new items.


Sharing is especially useful if you were going to do that activity since adding more people to the number of people using that resource increases its utility. An example of this would be carpooling or rideshare. The cost of fuel and wear and tear on the car would be spread out over a greater number of people. It also eliminates the need for multiple cars to take the same trip.


You can also facilitate borrowing and sharing by offering items that you have to other people. What I sometimes do with items that I lend to others, is I say they can keep the item until I need to use it again. Most of the time, I never need it again and I essentially give that item away.


Sharing and renting could be a cheaper way to get something than buying that item for full price. An example might be booking an AirBNB where you stay in a room in someone’s house instead of staying in a hotel. The experience is often quite different from staying in a hotel because you are staying in more residential areas, get to see how the locals live and where they eat and work, and you also get the benefit of helpful tips from your host.


You can also borrow or rent infrequently used items like sporting goods and camping equipment. It is probably more economical than buying that item new.


For example, I bought a paddleboard when I was really interested in paddleboarding. I’ve taken my paddleboard to various locations and most of the time I could have rented it. It would have saved me the need to store my paddleboard when not in use. I also wouldn’t need to maintain or transport my paddleboard. The rented paddleboard would have a higher utility than my paddleboard because more people use it.


If you have exhausted the option of borrowing, sharing, and renting, then we move to the next category.


SWAP, EXCHANGE, BARTER, TRADE


With the concept of swapping, exchanging, bartering, and trading, you get rid of an item that you no longer need and walk away with an item that is “new to you”. The beauty of swapping is that you can often get rid of something that is no longer useful to you and likely just take up space in your house with something that you want to use now. The swap could be for the items alone or they can involve an exchange of money or skills. 


Swapping could be as easy as sharing extra bananas from your tree and in exchange, your neighbor gives you some chili peppers. Items often swapped or exchanged are clothes, books, DVDs, board games, plants, seeds, produce, and homemade items. The more people involved in the swap, the more variety there will be to choose from.


An organized swap event could be something like a clothing swap where you bring a few items of clothing you don’t want anymore that you can swap with items that other people no longer want. 


It could be something like a book swap where you bring books that you have finished reading and exchange it for a book that you haven’t read. When I travel, I often leave a book that I finished on the bookshelf of the hotel or guesthouse and pick up a new book from the shelf.


There is a lot of swapping that can be facilitated by technology. In some cases, the swap is in exchange for a service like in house sitting or pet sitting.


For house sitting or pet sitting, a person can exchange their time and ability to take care of your house and/or pets while you are away for a place to stay and use basic items in the place they are staying. This hack has been used by many travelers to find opportunities to stay for extended periods of time in a new location.


Or, you may do a home swap for a period of time. If you live in a location that lends itself to tourism, you can try a swap with someone who lives in a destination you want to go to. You can vacation in a new location while staying in someone else’s home and they can come to stay in your home. Or, if your house is in a secluded location, your place could be ideal for someone trying to get away from it all. 


When considering swapping and exchanging, it may save time and money to do an exchange with someone to use their skills rather than using a professional or trying to do something yourself. If a friend or neighbor has the necessary skill set and equipment, they could complete the task much faster than you can if you have to figure out how to do something that you’ve never done before.


For example, I might walk my neighbor’s dog in exchange for them helping to sew a tote bag for me. It would be much more economical in terms of time because I don’t know how to sew. It would take me much longer to learn and do it correctly than someone who already knows how to sew.


It may not be swapping on a one to one basis, but you can also offer items up on freecycle groups to see if anyone wants the time you are looking to get rid of. You may be the one giving away an item sometimes, whereas other times you are the person getting something that someone is getting rid of.


By swapping, exchanging, bartering, and trading, you can get a product or service by giving something away in exchange. If it is something that I don’t need any longer, I don’t mind giving it away.


THRIFT OR BUY SECOND HAND


Thrifting or buying secondhand can be an excellent way to get a lightly used item. That secondhand item could have the same utility as a new item but at a lower cost. 


It is environmentally friendly because you don’t use more raw materials or resources in the production process and you save an item from potentially ending up in the landfill.


There may be local thrift stores or secondhand shops which are selling the item you are looking for. You can also try looking at garage sales. These days, it may be more efficient to look for a certain item online via Facebook groups, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, etc. Items that you can easily thrift or buy second hand are clothes, books, movies, small kitchen appliances, toys, kitchenware, home decor, craft items, and sporting goods.


On the other side of the coin, if you have an item that you are not using anymore, try posting that item for sale and you may achieve two objectives - getting rid of the item and putting a bit of money in your pocket. 


However, there may be cultural issues related to buying and using pre-owned items. There is also the perception that pre-owned items may be of lower quality than new items.


MAKE - DO-IT-YOURSELF OR UPCYCLE


Do-It-Yourself (DIY) can be a fun and affordable way to make what you need. You can use your existing skills or you can develop new skills. It can be a good way of making sure that an item is made exactly to your standards or to know exactly what went into making that item (as is the case with personal and cleaning products). Making an item yourself can also be a great way to give personalized gifts to friends and family.


In order to find out how to make something, I suggest doing a quick search on the internet. This often brings so many different answers and in a variety of formats. You can choose the method that works best for you and the resources that you have. 


In terms of cost, you may need to do a little research before buying all of the ingredients to make something if you don’t already have the ingredients or materials, since it may be more expensive than simply buying the item.


Here’s a case in point, I once bought everything to make beeswax wraps and I think it ended up being more expensive than buying a few beeswax wraps. But, I was able to make more beeswax wraps and give a few of them as gifts to friends and family.


However, making something can also hold personal value for you as an enjoyable, creative outlet. You can use your creativity in customizing and making something. You may also get a feeling of satisfaction or pride once you have made the item.


Upcycling can reduce waste since you are transforming an item that you may already have into a new item. It is a great way to reduce the waste stream from your home since you are taking something that is no longer useful to you in its current form and making it useful in a different way. This basically gives the item a “second life” and is essentially turning trash to treasure.


One caveat with making things yourself is that, if you don’t have time to make the item yourself, you may also buy the item made by someone else rather than buying a commercially made item. You could also do a swap, exchange, barter, or trade for the item as mentioned previously. 


For example, I went to a workshop to learn how to make soap, but I never went and bought the materials to make soap at home. Instead, I buy my soap from someone who makes the soap herself. I personally buy soap from Bangkok Soap Opera. She also takes my old oil to recycle it into soap so I consider it a win-win. 


This leads us right into the last category, which is to buy the item new.


BUY ACCORDING TO YOUR VALUES


Like the food pyramid where you have fats, oils, and sweets at the top and you should use them sparingly, the buy category should be used the least. I recommend that you only buy after you have slept on it and you have exhausted the other options for obtaining the item.


Keeping the items that you buy to a minimum will go a long way to reducing consumption of many resources since it reduces the amount of energy and resources we use to make the items we consume as well as reducing the amount of waste that ends up in the landfill once those items reach the end of their lifecycle.


You will also be saving money by not buying as much, so you can save up to spend more on a few, high-quality items. This approach means that you can do more to use what you have because your items last longer with proper care. 


When you buy items, try to only buy in quantities that you will use. Buying items in large quantities is usually cheaper, but you may not be able to use everything in a timely manner. You may want to think about how you can split that buy with someone else or who you can give that item to. 


To give you an example, my cousin bought 50 bottles of lotion because it only cost $50. One dollar for a bottle of lotion seemed too good of a deal to pass up! 


But, how long will it take her to use that much lotion?

When purchasing new items, try to consider items that are more sustainably produced. This is where you can spend some time researching the production of the item that you are looking to buy and then deciding if it is made in a way that aligns with sustainability. Remember that each time you buy something you are casting a vote to say you endorse that company, their values, and their methods. 


There are so many considerations and this will be a highly personal choice, but take this opportunity to support businesses that operate in a sustainable manner. Since you are buying fewer objects overall, you may be able to afford a slightly more expensive item. 


THINK QUALITY OVER QUANTITY!


To recap, here is a list of questions to help you approach buying a new item:


  • Do I truly need this item or can I get by without it?

  • Can I borrow, rent, or trade for this item?

  • If a purchase is required, can I get it used or secondhand?

  • Can I make this item with materials that I already have?

  • Can I buy an object with my values (ethically-sourced, organic, local, fair trade, durable, high quality, etc.)?


Using the Buyerarcy of Needs will help you think of innovative ways to satisfy your needs. It will stop you from making those impulse buys, especially now when you can buy everything with a few clicks. It can be rewarding to achieve the goals of being eco-friendly or saving money by reducing our consumption patterns.


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