What to look for when buying sustainable products
7 Minute Read
Everything has a footprint.
A lot goes into every product you buy – whether it be from a local brick-and-mortar store or online website. And as a conscious consumer, it’s important to do some digging into the products you buy. And to know what to look for when buying sustainable products. So you can determine the positive or negative impact they have on the planet, on communities, and on the people who make those products.
As a sustainability consultant who works with eco conscious businesses everyday, I’m dialed into all of the factors that go into making an ethical or sustainable product. These factors range from packaging decisions, to carbon footprint calculations to fair working conditions. And they’re all things that you as a consumer have a right to know about. The problem is: it can be hard to get info on these things by looking at a price tag or label. After all, only so much information can fit on there.
People, planet or profit?
Now, as you know all too well, some businesses focus primarily on profit. And they generally don’t put a whole lot on their label aside from the price. Because let’s be honest, that’s all they want you to focus on.
But others businesses, who care about more than just profits, use their product labels and descriptions to show you who they really are and what they stand for. Whether it be their use of recycled materials, Fair Trade Certification, or use of non-toxic dyes, they’ve taken the time to go the extra mile from an ethical or sustainable point of view. And they’ve made it a priority for you to know and understand that.
My goal here is to help you choose what products to buy based on your values. And to help you know what to look for when buying sustainable products – or making any new purchase for that matter. After years of researching sustainability, product life cycles, environmental impacts, and carbon footprints of businesses both large and small, I know exactly what to look for as a consumer. And I help businesses execute on those same initiatives everyday with my consulting.
So as someone who lives and breathes sustainable business, I wanted to give you an insider perspective on exactly what to look for when buying sustainable products. By knowing what to look for as a conscious consumer, you can make the most intentional purchases. And have peace of mind knowing you’re making a decision that aligns with your personal values and supports businesses that align with those values too. These insights will also help you avoid businesses who greenwash their customers into believing that they’re more sustainable than they are. Sometimes, they’re a hell of a lot more subtle than you’d think.
Conscious Consumerism 101:
What to look for when buying sustainable products
Company ethics and values:
- Is the company transparent? How much information do they share on the label?
- Is there anything on the label that indicates the company’s mission, values or ethics?
- Does the business have any mention of sustainability?
- Was it ethically made? (i.e., were the farmers, factory workers and sales employees fairly paid and treated?)
- Were any animals used, mistreated or killed to bring this product to market?
- Where was it made?
- How far did it travel to get to me?
- Can I justify the shipping if I’m ordering online? Where’s it shipped from?
- Is there somewhere I could get a similar product that’s local and would have a smaller carbon footprint?
Resources and End of Life:
- Will this last me a season or a decade?
- What’s it made of? Are the materials natural or synthetic?
- Do those materials require a lot of resources (such as water, pesticides, fossil fuels)?
- Are the ingredients toxic in any way?
- Is it made from recycled materials?
- What kind of inks or dyes are used in making this item? Are those dyes toxic?
- What kind of packaging does it come in? Is the packaging compostable or recyclable?
- When this product is no longer of use, what will happen to it? Will it end up in a landfill? Or is there a better way to dispose of it?
- Can it be recycled?
- What happens if I need to return this? Will the company simply throw it away because it’s easier and cheaper than inspecting it so it can be sold again?
Obviously, you can’t answer all these questions when you view a label in a store or the website’s product description page. But these can be what you look for when buying sustainable products. You can find a lot of the answers on the company website (if you have the time and energy to look it up).
Here’s the cliff notes version of the above questions:
The less information a company voluntarily gives you, the less likely they are to be ethical and sustainable. And the more likely they are to simply care about “profit only and profit always.”
The proof is in the pudding:
Here’s a personal experience I had when looking for an ethical, sustainably sourced hat over the past year. I reached out to a couple of hat companies I was interested in buying from, and asked them about their sourcing and manufacturing practices.
The first instance (shown below) is the perfect example of a company hiding something. And it shows they’re not interested in being fully transparent with their customers. They make claims. But don’t back any of them up.
I ended this conversation by strongly encouraging the company to see the benefits of being transparent. And reinforced that by saying they’d be losing a customer because of that lack of transparency. Even though I was a bit pissed off by it, it wouldn’t do them any good if I had ended the conversation there without giving them feedback. Instead, I took it as an opportunity to nudge them in the right direction. The rest is up to them.
In the second scenario (shown below), a different hat company told me about their ethical and sustainable practices and also followed it up with how they certify those claims. After I received the message, a quick Google search proved that the certification was legit, and did indeed align with my values for animal welfare. So I bought the hat.
A Golden Nugget for all Businesses 👇
The above is a perfect example of how sustainable and ethical practices can lead to greater profitability. It gives you the opportunity to serve your customers what they can’t get elsewhere. They’ll adore you for it and keep coming back again and again. You see, when companies solely focus on profits, there’s no need for customer loyalty. As soon as someone has a price that’s lower than yours, those customers will be out the door. But when you connect with your customers on a deeper level, you’ll have them for life.
If you’re looking for support on how to become more sustainable without sacrificing profit, click here to book a free strategy session so we can dive into your business and identify all the ways you can use sustainability to grow and have impact all at the same time.
If you keep all of these tips in mind, finding and creating sustainable products is much simpler than one would imagine. Digging can take time at first, but finding those sustainable business gems is worth it. The more we partake in sustainable business, the more there will be! Do you already have a list of your favorite sustainable companies? I’d love to hear about them below👇