What is the wisest course of action you can take to lessen pollution and live more sustainably? It can just be to consider how your purchases affect the environment. Buying eco-friendly goods is not just a fad, and the recession hasn’t stopped the trend. Approximately four out of five respondents claimed to have purchased green products despite the recession, according to a 2009 study by the nonprofit research organization Green Seal and EnviroMedia Social Marketing.
Making thoughtful selections may be difficult when engaging in eco-friendly consumerism. For instance, a new refrigerator might be more energy-efficient than the one you already own, but any device requires energy to manufacture.
Is it more eco-friendly to buy the new one or stick with the old if it still works? Likewise, buying locally grown food cuts the energy used for transportation, but growing them in a greenhouse might use just as much energy.
To complicate matters further, shoppers have to take much of the information provided about products with a grain of salt. Manufacturers and retailers sometimes offer unproven, vague, irrelevant or outright false claims. This technique, known as “greenwashing,” is meant to make consumers think products are green when they’re not. For example, claims like “chemical free” and “nontoxic” are often meaningless. Cigarettes might be labeled “natural,” but they’re still bad for you.
The best way to determine whether a product is eco-friendly is to rely on third-party certification. Look for products with labels from reliable organizations that evaluate the environmental impact of each item. For example, Green Seal is a nonprofit organization that conducts a rigorous, scientific analysis of the overall impact of products.
Another authoritative certifier is Scientific Certification Systems (SCS), which looks at things like recycled content, organic ingredients and sustainable forestry. Products certified Energy Star by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have to meet minimum energy-saving criteria. Ecologo is a certification program run by the Canadian government and recognized worldwide. A good place to sort out all the different labels is Consumer Reports’ GreenerChoices Web site.
But how do you find and verify the sustainability of your materials and products? And how do you communicate that to your customers in a clear and honest way? Here are some best practices for sourcing and labeling eco-friendly materials and products.
Choose reputable suppliers
The first step is to choose suppliers that have a proven track record of ethical and sustainable practices. You can look for certifications, standards, or labels that indicate their compliance with environmental and social criteria, such as organic, fair trade, recycled, or biodegradable. You can also ask them for information about their sourcing, production, and distribution processes, such as their energy use, water consumption, waste management, and labor conditions. You can also check their reviews, ratings, or testimonials from other customers or organizations.
Use natural or recycled materials
The second step is to use materials that have a low environmental impact, such as natural or recycled fibers, fabrics, or packaging. Natural materials are derived from renewable sources, such as cotton, wool, hemp, or bamboo, and have minimal processing and chemical treatments. Recycled materials are made from waste or post-consumer products, such as plastic bottles, cardboard, or denim, and reduce the need for new resources and landfill. You can look for labels or symbols that indicate the percentage or origin of the natural or recycled materials.
Avoid harmful substances
The third step is to avoid materials or products that contain harmful substances, such as pesticides, dyes, bleaches, or preservatives, that can pollute the environment or harm the health of workers or consumers. You can look for labels or symbols that indicate the absence or limit of these substances, such as OEKO-TEX, GOTS, or bluesign. You can also opt for materials or products that use natural or organic alternatives, such as plant-based dyes, beeswax, or essential oils.
Provide clear and accurate labels
The fourth step is to provide clear and accurate labels that inform your customers about the eco-friendly features of your materials and products. You can use labels or symbols that are recognized and trusted by consumers, such as the EU Ecolabel, the Green Seal, or the EcoLogo. You can also use text or graphics that explain the benefits or impacts of your materials and products, such as the carbon footprint, the water savings, or the social contribution. You should avoid vague or misleading claims, such as “green”, “eco-friendly”, or “natural”, that are not backed up by evidence or standards.
Educate and engage your customers
The fifth step is to educate and engage your customers about the eco-friendly aspects of your materials and products. You can use displays, signs, or tags that highlight the features or stories of your materials and products, such as the origin, the process, or the people behind them. You can also use interactive or digital tools, such as QR codes, apps, or websites, that provide more information or resources for your customers, such as certification details, sustainability tips, or feedback forms.
Review and improve your practices
The sixth step is to review and improve your practices for sourcing and labeling eco-friendly materials and products. You can monitor and measure your environmental and social performance, such as your energy efficiency, your waste reduction, or your customer satisfaction. You can also seek feedback and suggestions from your customers, your suppliers, or your peers, such as surveys, reviews, or forums. You can also research and adopt new technologies, innovations, or trends that can enhance your sustainability and competitiveness.
How to Ensure Product Sustainability
Today, a successful product must be sustainable. It is becoming more and more mandatory, and the typical consumer eagerly anticipates it. But how to figure out if they have a sustainable product in the first place is a problem for many businesses. Since there are so many variables to take into account, every angle must be taken into account when determining the total footprint and environmental impact.
Read Also: What Stores Sell Eco-Friendly Products?
There are numerous approaches to assess a design’s sustainability and globally important implications, whether you’re testing it before production or trying to improve an older, existing product.
1. Assess All Raw Material Sources
Let’s start with one of the easiest and most influential factors in product sustainability. Sustainable products should use raw materials that come from as environmentally social or harmless sources as possible.
The materials used at the start will highly influence the overall sustainability of the product throughout the life cycle. Are organic or otherwise harmless options available? If we use limited resources like plastic, are we using post-industrial grade materials? Products that fail to consider these criteria will simply never be sustainable.
2. Check It’s Recyclability
Alongside the choice of raw materials, we also need to consider the environmental impact that happens at the end of life of the product. By undertaking an entire life cycle assessment, we can better determine the overall product sustainability. We must remember that the consumer’s actions form part of the product life cycle.
In this case, using recyclable and environmentally friendly materials will make a big change. Such materials ensure consumers are able to make more eco-friendly choices to protect natural resources. Question every non-recyclable material and not only ensure it is unavoidable, but that it is used at an absolute minimum.
3. Inspect the Manufacturing Process
How a product is created also has both environmental and social factors that need to be considered. This includes, for instance, the power sources used in manufacturing, as well as the other materials that may be used during this process.
When using water in large amounts, for example, this can have numerous consequences on the surrounding area, thanks to the displacement of natural resources. A sustainable product would seek to minimize such impacts through controllable means, whether it’s limited manufacturing or creating additional actions to counter the damage. This often requires inspecting production sites and improving their own internal processes to reduce the company’s environmental impact.
4. Assess The Supply Chain
Alongside the materials used in production, we must also consider the wider environmental impact of any product’s value chain, including the supply chain, as the latter nonetheless forms a vital part of the product’s life cycle impacts.
Often, this is where businesses need to make key considerations throughout their delivery and manufacturing processes. They need to look at the environmental impacts of every additional company or service used. In today’s world, even just working with unsustainable companies during production is viewed very poorly on the market.
On the other hand, limiting a product’s life cycle costs – meaning reducing negative environmental impacts in the entire life cycle of the product, including its very beginning – may bring certain economic benefits to the company. Especially in developing countries, signs of undertaking sustainability efforts, such as reducing contribution to climate change, making constant, significant improvements to the products, and ensuring sustainable development of the company are very often awarded by receiving global level third-party certification, such as World Fair Trade Organisation certificate.
5. Measure It’s Transportability
Near the end of the manufacturing process, the product still needs to reach the consumer. Whether it’s sold directly or sent to stores, how easy something is to transport will help make it a more sustainable product.
For example, how many items can fit on a pallet? Can the packaging be reduced to make this even more efficient? Can we use more eco-friendly transport options? More than just material, excess wasted transport capabilities simply add to the more greenhouse gas emissions which your business will need to offset to ensure product sustainability.
6. Research Source Locations
While on the topic of supply chains, a product made of resources from locations further afield will naturally have a greater impact to the environment than one that favors closer or even locally sourced options.
Just as we assess the choice of every material, we must also consider where such resources are acquired from. As has already been stated, transportation has an environmental impact that adds to the sustainable product’s life cycle. Often, this is where organizations need to choose between the greater cost efficiency of distance locations or the greater product sustainability of local options. Even sustainable materials can be hard to justify if they need to be flown in from the other side of the globe.
Finding sources closer to home can often lower the environmental impact. When products hit new markets, for instance, businesses can further consider this factor: is it better to source locally in each market than transport from the existing source?
7. Ensure Compliance Is Checked
On the subject of source locations, supply chains and materials, a sustainable product only stays sustainable if the company continues to check and monitor its environmental impact. There are two key things that can be done here. In addition to simply checking the wider supply chain and product life cycle, we can also then look to educate all members of the supply chain, helping them gain certifications and ensure goals are kept.
The goal here is to identify the weakest links and, if they can’t be updated to ensure greater product sustainability, we can look to better alternatives.
8. Measure The Wastage
After a product is created, how much waste material is left over? This includes material leftover from the manufacturing process, but also the likes of leftover stock. Since it’s not being used, it won’t end its life cycle as intended, but nonetheless has an environmental impact that hurts the wider sustainability of the product.
Investing in smarter production and product design can limit wastage. Likewise, smaller batches and further recycling options can ensure that what is created seldom goes to waste at all.
9. Conduct a Life Cycle Assessment to Reduce Life Cycle Costs
When taking in all the factors above, you will have a nearly complete view of the overall product sustainability. By taking this one more step further and conducting a full life cycle assessment, you will not only confirm the product’s current sustainability but also identify more improvements to better remove environmental impacts.
Such assessments can be carried out in-house or by outside experts, but it’s an essential way to take the previously discussed elements into a final, quantifiable result. Naturally, a full assessment will take all the above factors into consideration. Proper life cycle orientation can significantly empower the sustainable development of the product and the whole company.
10. Encourage Transparency
Finally, one of the key benefits of sustainable product design is that it enables companies to be transparent and open with their customers. After all, more and more consumers favor product sustainability when choosing between purchases and looking for sustainability attributes.
Many leading companies are not only being transparent with their sustainable products, but they’re also seeking certifications to back up their claims. This can include compulsory government-set certifications, but also additional goals that, while optional, help to highlight and confirm product sustainability for all. This is a trend many markets are moving towards: those openly and transparently showing their sustainability will fare better than those that don’t, at least in the eyes of the conscientious consumer.