The term sustainable is being used more and more in the branding and promotion of products. This is a really great turn for the environment as it shows that more people are wanting to choose sustainably sourced and made products. However, it does leave the consumer in a bit of a dilemma. How do you tell when a product is truly sustainable versus only a claim of sustainability? It can be tricky with so many marketing campaigns and brands throwing information at you as a consumer. Learning to weed out the false information from the truth can take a long time. But with a few of our tips below, you’ll be better equipped to make smarter, more sustainable choices.
- Decide what your definition of sustainable is. It really is an umbrella term when it comes to choosing what sustainable is to you. Are you looking for vegan brands, brands that use ethical labour, etc? Your first step is to decide what is important to you.
- If you are looking for products that don’t use animal products, try cruelty free and vegan brands.
- If you are wanting to reduce the impacts on humans, look for brands that are transparent about their fair trade labour and ethics.
- If you are wanting something that is as earth-friendly as possible, try brands that use recycled packaging and materials or ones that have carbon credits in place for shipping.
- Look for transparency on their website or social media pages. Be critical of what they are promoting as language can be tricky in the environmental world. Do they have information on their factories, workers or supply chain? Is there mention of giving back, collaborating with NGO’s? Do they offer carbon credits or offsets for shipping? Essentially, look at their corporate social responsibility which describes a company’s plan for accountability to themselves. The more transparent they are, the better you can feel about buying from them.
- Read the about section to learn about the mission and story of the company. What is their origin story, why were they founded, etc. Learn about the founders through any interviews they have done to understand their business model and motivation behind starting the company. Get a sense of where their company came from, how they got to where they are today and where they want to go.
- Standards and certifications are great indicators (most of the time) for sustainable brands. Certifications are expensive so some of the smaller companies may be doing extra work around sustainability but do not have a certificate to show for it. Big companies on the other hand may show you something that looks legit, but really isn’t. For example if they are saying they sell fair trade products, but are not Fair Trade Certified, I would be skeptical of that claim. As with all things environmental, language is key when it comes to weeding out the greenwashed businesses. Here are some examples of legitimate certifications:
- Certified B-Corporation
- Fair Trade Certified
- Canadian Organic Standards
- Forest Stewardship Council Certified
- Use an app or website like Good on You which ranks lots of popular brands according to their ethical and environmental aspects, so that you can make the best decision for yourself and the planet. They do all of the hard work for you and you simply enter the brand you’re looking for to find out all the details on them. It shows you a breakdown of how they scored based on the effect the brand has on the environment, animals and people. They also have a detailed document that tells you their science and decisions behind their ranking system.
- When in doubt, ask questions. Send a message to the company directly airing your concerns or questions. If they respond to you with the information you are looking for, then that is a good sign. If you get no response or a typical “we don’t discuss this” then I think it is safe to say that they are hiding something somewhere. If you haven’t caught on yet, transparency is a BIG indicator in the “sustainability” of a brand and is one of the best ways to weed out any companies that may not be doing great work.
Trying to choose a sustainable brand to buy from can be quite tricky to navigate. With many companies claiming that their brands are “environmentally friendly” there is a lot of greenwashing that is happening. And while there may be some smaller companies out there who are truly manufacturing products in a sustainable way, they are often overshadowed by large corporations greenwashing their products. Dig a little deeper into the popular brands that you already know and buy from in order to find out what they are doing to combat the social and environmental problems that are common in manufacturing industries. Using the tips above and doing a little extra research before purchasing a product, will help you make sustainable decisions that will benefit both you and the environment.