we have talked about different certifications before, how they work, which ones are the best etc, and products that have gone through intense third-party testing will often display for the shopper to see, as such, look at the packaging, display, description of a product and see what it tells you. First impressions I look for could be, who owns the company (even small local-looking products can be sister companies of Nestle or Coca Cola, which I generally try to avoid), what are the ingredients (is it vegan, does it contain harmful substances, does it contain lots of high-impact ingredients like palm oil, etc), what is the packaging made of (is the packaging both recyclable AND made from recycled materials, then we’re golden, simply “being recyclable” means very little when recycling facilities are so different)
Today it is a lot more difficult, or often more expensive or complicated to produce sustainable products, sustainable production both means producing fewer products, which is more expensive than producing lots, it means using materials that can be more expensive to produce, it means paying fair wages and participating in initiatives that support or donate to an important cause. All of this means that brands have to invest more in more eco-friendly products, and they want you to know about these things, they really want to show you. So when looking for sustainable brands, head to their website and look for proof that can back up any claims they are making. You can also do a quick internet search to see if they are involved in any shady business, or if sustainability platforms are recommending them (like GoodOnYou), it might not always be a 100% guarantee, but it can be a guideline and a vibe check.
What’s not enough: before talking about what type of proof we can look for, these are the things that I think are not enough…
Every single company has a sustainability folder on their website today, so usually, we need to do a little bit more digging before we can see if they are legit. Some companies think that if they just know the right words, that’s enough, buuuuuut. If the sustainability “efforts” just include some vague description of a brand’s values like “we’re committed to reducing our footprint” or “let’s take better care of the planet”.
Other things to remember
- Green, brown, “eco” looking packaging, but no information about actual eco actions is greenwashing
- “eco”, “green”, and “sustainable” are buzzwords that mean nothing by themselves, and everyone can use them, without having to change anything to their product
- If the only sustainability action a brand takes is “planting a tree with purchase” they aren’t actually doing anything – check out my video about carbon offsetting and tree planting if you want to know how shady this business can be.
What is actually proof
Instead what to look for is concrete action, not just fancy words, green flags can be if they publish impact reports, show their work and progress, share milestones, carbon analysis, or are they just including a pledge to action? The latter means nothing, I hope that’s very clear. There is also something about the degree of change. Some brands are switching to organic materials, but using 12% organic cotton is not ambitious enough for me to even consider if the rest of the materials are still just conventional cotton or polyester. What I like to think of as legit proof of sustainable efforts is when a brand acknowledges an issue in the industry they are in, takes us through why there are issues here, and share what they have done to combat those issues. I also love seeing receipts, actual names, and locations, can a brand share the name of their manufacturer or factory? Then there is of course certification, both things like B-Corp, GOTS, etc have requirements for workers’ rights. Because even if you use 100% recycled cotton, but have no information about your workers or how you can guarantee a sweatshop-free environment, I am no dice.
- If they take it full circle, are they advertising “compostable packaging”, then I want to see how long it takes to break down their packaging, and how to do it, they should have that information available.
- Are they offering repair programs, or are they working with green organizations.
- If they are using green materials, I want to see that reflected thoroughly, and not just in one collection, one time
- If they are preaching sustainable production, I don’t want to see massive super-sales every other month.
- If a brand is promoting itself as sustainable, but then drops new products every day/week, there is no way that they are actually producing them sustainably.
Ask these questions
- What is the brand/product promising
- How are they achieving their goal
- Is the product necessary (in general or for you specifically)
If you’re in doubt, but really invested, like I often am, and do you, like me, have nothing better to do, then contact them and ask them about their sustainability effort, ask to see proof. If you do have better things to do, you can skip a lot of these steps and just benefit from the work I have already done by checking out my lists of eco brands, and product recommendations.