With the growing attention of consumers towards products that have minimal impact on the environment, more and more brands are starting to develop and promote sustainable products. However, there are also companies out there trying to ride this wave by promoting products that, sometimes, are not sustainable at all. This is called greenwashing.
One of the main causes for this to happen is the lack of transparency in the supply chain. The journey that products take from the supplier to the consumer, is usually not very clear, forcing us to trust what brands tell us. Greenwashing might occur more often than we think, and that’s why it’s so important to learn how to spot genuinely sustainable products.
To avoid being misled, we can take action as consumers, fighting back by getting more information about brands we buy from, and by learning about what makes up ‘real’ sustainable products. So, let’s have a look at a few things to keep in mind when trying to find these products...
Spending some time going through brands’ websites could help you find sustainable products and getting a better insight into the brand’s values. On websites, you might even be able to find more info on their certifications and/or labels (such as BCorp, their sustainability report etc..).
Chances are you will end up discovering more than you would expect. Indeed, brands doing greenwashing are likely to have some inconsistencies between what they claim and what they have on the website. Besides, when looking for sustainable products it’s important to keep in mind where the product is coming from - mileage also determines product sustainability.
Here are two easy tips to help you grasp the authenticity of a brand’s claim:
Sustainability reports usually look nicer at first sight than that they are. It's important to uncover what's NOT there and how precise the information is and what companies might be trying to hide behind nice looking pictures, diagrams, etc...
Another rule of thumb is to check the origin of the product. The shorter the supply chain, the better. There is a high chance that a short supply chain will have better environmental and social performances - developing sustainable products. Shopping local makes it easier for you to discover the story behind the brand, make informed decisions and support your local community.
Something that can help to assess a product’s sustainability is the label."Ecolabelling" is a voluntary method of environmental performance certification and labelling - practised around the world. The Ecolabel can support you to identify sustainable products.
To help us understand a bit better what labels are about; The International Organization for Standardisation (ISO) has defined three types of Ecolabelling*:
Third-party program that measures the product’s environmental performances based on life cycle considerations. That means, assessing the environmental impact of a product from the supply of raw materials to the disposal at the end of its life.
Informative environmental self-declaration claims.
Voluntary programs that provide quantified environmental data on categories set by qualified third parties and based on LCA. It indicates the life-cycle of a product.
When checking labels, trust genuine ecolabels. Although, try to make sure you understand what they mean. If you care enough to buy sustainable products in the first place, try to make sure that your money really is making the difference you want it to make. Do some research online. Find out where your products come from, how they are produced, and what steps manufacturers have taken to make them more sustainable.
Remember, unlabeled products aren't necessarily unsustainable. The opposite may also be true. Many small producers can't afford the high costs of an ecolabel, but they can make great sustainable products.
Today, product packaging drives most of the attention from consumers and, because of that, companies efforts too. Packaging has a strong impact on how consumers perceive sustainable products and that happens for a reason.
In 2017 the average EU citizen produced 173kg of packaging waste (see more), paper/cardboard and plastic accounting for 60% of its total. With only 21% of the total being recycled, packaging has definitely become a big issue.
When looking for sustainable products, we suggest you focus on packaging, materials and after use services. To find out more about the sustainability of what you’re buying also check the packaging labels. Pay attention if the product you’re buying has a self-declaration (type II) kind of label or a generic claim about the recyclability or biological/vegan origin of the product.
This should help you discover if you are purchasing sustainable products. Greenwashing applies quite easily to the packaging. For example when it says 100% recyclable it actually has no real value because many materials can be recycled (or composted) but it’s the handling of the waste that makes a difference. Today we currently have a global recycling rate of only 8.4%(see report).
If there’s no label supporting you, there are some general rules that you can apply when evaluating the packaging. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when searching for sustainable products:
Understanding what sustainable products are is a big theme. Greenwashing is a current trend in industries and it is becoming even more pressing to distinguish what is true from what is not. That is why we will be giving more tips on this issue in the next chapter of our blog. Together we will try to understand what makes a material sustainable.
In the meanwhile find out how sustainable alternatives to plastic and paper packaging can easily trick you