Eco-friendly, earth-friendly, recyclable, organic, carbon-neutral… how can we know what really makes one product better for the environment than another? Here’s a look at some factors to think about if you want to shop a little greener.
If you don’t have time to do homework, there are some well established certifications that you can trust to help you out.
B Corporation – A company that is a Certified B Corporation has met high standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency. If you see this seal on a product you can be sure it is doing a better job in many important areas.
Certified Organic – The Canada Organic label is only permitted on products that have an organic content that is greater than or equal to 95% and have been certified according to the requirements of the Canada Organic Regime. (The USDA 100% Organic standards are similar) This helps ensure products are produced using practices that promote ecological balance, maintain and improve soil and water quality, and minimize the use of synthetic materials.
Fair Trade Certification – This seal means products have met rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards, including safe working conditions, environmental protection, sustainable livelihoods and community development funds.
Every product has an environmental footprint.
From the raw materials used, to energy, packaging, shipping, and use & disposal of the product itself, there is nothing produced that does not leave an impact on the environment. This chain of activity is called the product lifecycle, and by looking at these different stages, we can start to understand which products might make less of an impact than others. More and more manufacturers are including details about their ingredients, materials and manufacturing on their website or even on the package itself.
Things to look for in the Product Lifecycle:
Recycled Content – Using recycled materials in manufacturing can reduce energy use and impacts on ecosystems.
Organic Ingredients – For food, textiles and other plant-based products, organic production can reduce the need for fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and is easier on ecosystems.
Ingredients of Concern – This is especially important for products that go in, on or around us. Ingredients such as BPA, benzene, formaldehyde, parabens, polyethylene glycol, toluene and others are found in everyday products. Companies that make better alternatives will also generally post ALL product ingredients on their websites. The Environmental Working Group has a great online resource for researching personal care ingredients.
Renewable Energy – Look for products made in facilities powered by renewables such as wind and solar.
Local Production – Products produced closer to home require less shipping, and profits from locally-owned businesses tend to have better community impacts.
Packaging: Reduced / Recycled / Recyclable – Look for packaging that uses recycled materials and can be recycled. The most recyclable plastics are #1, #2, #4 and #5. (Avoid #6, #7 or packages with no number)
Buy Durable, Buy Less – A product designed to last longer is better than one that needs to be replaced every year. Quality counts.
Products designed to Operate ‘Greener’ – The use of a product has its footprint, too.
- Consider buying rechargeable batteries.
- Pick up a power bar that lets you completely shut off energy-using appliances.
- Look for new reusable options in categories like menstrual products.
- Choose reusable options like Tupperware, over single-use plastics.
- Use a cold-water laundry detergent. Choose LED light bulbs.
Every choice can make a positive difference.
Buy from a ‘Green’ Company
Today’s shareholders are looking for companies that care about the climate and the environment. Many corporations are implementing broad and meaningful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plans, covering everything from carbon footprint to diversity and inclusion initiatives. (See B Corporation, above) Visit a company’s website and look for their CSR or Sustainability section. (Example – Unilever Planet & Society) You can also look for companies that contribute to social and environmental causes, such as 1% For the Planet.
As a consumer, when you support companies who are trying to do it better, it’s a win for the whole planet.
Stay positive and keep making those small changes.
Nobody can be a perfect sustainable shopper, but every effort counts. Make a difference where you can, but don’t feel bad if some of your favourite products aren’t as green as you would like…yet. And if you would like them to do better, let them know.