March 2nd, 2023
What are examples of sustainable products? How do we identify them?
Many no longer understand what a sustainable product is thanks to greenwashing practices. Below, we'll be showing you how to identify sustainable products (scroll for examples), and spot greenwashing.
3 Ways to Check if a Product is Sustainable
1. Materials/Ingredients Used and How They're Sourced
No matter how great the branding looks, or the promises the company claims, take a look at the ingredients and packaging material used. For example, a shampoo bottle may have greenwashing buzzwords written across the bottle, such as 'natural', 'earth friendly', or, 'green'.
However, if it's packaged in plastic and contains harmful ingredients that aren't responsibly sourced, it's not sustainable.
Clothing giants such as H&M love to throw "made from recycled materials" on clothing but fail to mention the abhorrently low wages they pay garment workers. A sustainable product on the other hand will be packed appropriately (i.e. shampoo bars in cardboard packaging like this one) and, free from harmful, synthetic ingredients thar are bad for our bodies and the planet once they reenter the natural ecosystem.
They'll also be making an effort to source ingredients from responsible suppliers with transparent business practices when it comes to employee pay, working conditions, ecological practices and any other important information regarding thier business activities.
We'll be writing an in depth blog on ingredients to avoid, but for now, to ensure you avoid products with harmful ingredients is by googling 'ingredients to avoid in x product' (replacing x with the product type you're purchasing (i.e. deodorant, toothpaste).
2. The Product's Necessity
Does one truly need this product? If not, we may be unnecessarily consuming and using resources for no good reason. Consider whether a company is providing true value to your life or, is trying to sell you a gimmick or temporary thrill for a profit. These products may make for a fun 10-15 minutes, but after that, they become wasted resources and won't contribute to a happy healthy life. We need soap, shampoo, toothpaste, food, period care, cleaning products and other essentials. We don't need electronic hoverboards.
Additionally, it's important to ask whether a product provides a far more sustainable version of an existing product. For example, a bamboo toothbrush with nylon bristles isn't perfect (nylon is made from plastic), but it has 99% less plastic than a traditional toothbrush which makes it a fantastic improvement on the tradtional product. We want progress, not perfection.
For instance, a back scratcher made with ethically-sourced bamboo made me made of sound materials, but is it a purchase we truly need? Or, are we falling into the consumerist trap?
Considering how necessary a brand's products actually are may be one of the most important ways to determine whether a brand is actually sustainable or, is continuing the encourage an age of overproduction and consumption under the guise of ethical materials. Don't be fooled!
3. Carbon emissions, plain and simple.
Is a product contributing to a net zero economy? If so, good, if not, bad. Plastic free is a good start here. The OECD claim that throughout their lifecycle, plastics have a significant carbon footprint and emit 3.4% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
When possible, shop from brands who publish impressive figures showing how their product is saving carbon emissions. Not every sustainability-focsued brand has the resources to publish such detailed reports, but we can follow a logical process.
If the product follows the first two factors correctly, and no glaring issues present themselves i.e.- shipped from overseas every order, owned by a conglomorate or investment group investing in fossil fuels or, other unethical corporations contributing to climate change.
*A simple way to easily spot greenwashed products*
The easy way to determine whether a product is actually sustainable is to follow the logic. If it doens't make sense i.e. it claims to be sustainable but the packaging is plastic, it probably isn't.
Marketers trick us with fancy packaging, emotional advertisements and some downright monstrous practices that manipulate our poor brains. However, their ploys usually reply on heuristic and emotional thinking, rather than rational thought. This is why informed consumers can spot the difference. When determining whether a product is truly sustainable, follow the logic and you'll rarely be wrong. In the next section we'll take a look at some examples, good and bad to hone our detective skills!
First.. some good examples...
Plastic Free Deodorant by PAPR- Bare Naked, Sensitive, Unscented
PAPR's Deodorant is Manufactured in Los Angeles
Daniel Roescheisen and Kim Eberle founded PAPR cosmetics in Los Angeles to bring high quality, funcitioning deodorant, free from typically harmful ingredients found in deodorants such as aluminium, silicone and parabens.
The plastic-free deodorants are produced in LA, vegan, and certified never tested on animals. The packaging is 99.8% paper and 0.02% cornstarch, both are biodegradeable.
When we apply our aforementioned checklist, we can easily see why this a great product. It's free from problematic ingredients, responsibly packaged and made in the United States where it is sold, which dramatically decreases emissions produced from transport miles, not to mention a more carbon efficient style of packaging.
Additionally, it's a necessary, widely used product that replaces a problematic, traditional version packaged in plastic and often using poorly sourced ingredients. `Furthermore, most traditional deodorant brands are owned by large parent companies (Rexona aka, Sure, Shiel & Degree is owned by Unilever).
Fresh Mint Toothpaste Bits by Bite
Bite creates dental products designed to minimise waste.
Bite are an awesome brand, hands down. They're tackling an extremely wasteful industry (according to a Harvard paper), 23 billion plastic toothbrushes are discarded in the US every year.
Bite has created a range of dental products designed to reduce waste and made with sustainable ingredients. What is so impressive about Bite is their incredible transparency. They publish detailed documents of their ingredients, sourcing and shipping strategy to show how they're making an effort to act as sustainably as possible.
Interestingly, Bite quotes an MIT paper describing that online shopping is indeed more carbon efficient if shipping isn't rushed. Therefore, they use existing postal routes which limit delivery emissions.
The Leaf Razor- Refillable, Plastic Free and Money Saving Over Time
Leaf Shave was founded by two engineers who set out to produce a better razor and realised it meant producing a sustainable one too.
Leaf Shave are a small business solving the huge problem of plastic waste in the shaving industry with 3 million + plastic razors being disposed in the US each year.
Impressively, Leaf's razor isn't just more sustainable (thanks to it's plastic-free design and easily replaceable metal blades), it's genuinely a better razor than anything out there.
One of the founders explained- "our goal is to increase accessibility to plastic-free shaving by making available options that simply work better. Too often in the world of sustainable goods, users are asked to sacrifice efficacy in exchange for a lower footprint."
Leaf proved with their Razor study that you'd experience a safer, closer shave using their razor compared to alternatives including plastic razors and traditional steel razors. Meaning this product isn't just more sustainable, it's functions better too.
*You'll start to notice brands that aren't greenwashing can back up their claims with solid evidence, rather than green jargon and marketing slogans.
Now, let's look at a greenwashed product and play spot the difference:
Last Object's Reusable Cotton Swabs, Made from Plastic
Last Object creates "zero waste versions of single-use products", but the brand has some problematic elements that create oxymoronic branding claims. Last Object products featured in an early version of the Good People Inc. marketplace, but were removed after we realised their existence wasn't a logical solution.
To start, the product's packaging and website repeatedly states "designed in Denmark", which leads the consumer to believe the product is manufactured in Denmark, which is great if you're selling Europe which we were at the time (currently we sell across the US and hope to expand to Europe again in early 2024.) However, the products are actually manufactured in China. Now, manufacturing in China and being sustainable can coexist if done correctly and the numbers support a carbon efficient supply chain. But, this misleading branding is the first warning signal that these products may not be sustainable.
A deeper dive in and we begin to question whether this product is necessary. The problem with single-use cotton swabs is the plastic stick on either end. But rather than producing huge amounts more of fossil fuel derived plastics (not all of Last Object's plastic use is recycled), why not replace the stick with a compostable material such as bamboo? Other brands including Mable's cotton swabs have done just this and we believe it's a far simpler solution that better serves our net zero targets.
You can use these three identifers to determine whether any product is sustainable. Take H&M clothing for example. They use polyester for many clothing lines (plastic), and even their 'eco friendly' lines are sourced from garment factories who underpay workers. Not to mention the incredible amounts of overproduction leading to tremendous waste. By following the logic, we can see through the greenwashed phrases and empty promises protrayed by marketing teams, and feel more in control of our purchasing choices
Looking for more examples of sustainable products? Let us do the hard work for you.
Everything listed on our marketplace is previously vetted to ensure it is truly a sustainable product. We are rigorous with our decision making to ensure the Good People marketplace is a safe haven from the attempts of marketers and unethical companies to sell you their goods. Even seemingly great brands such as Last Object won't sneak through the net as we've shown so, you can be confident when searching for sustainable products on the platform.
-Thomas Lawrence, March 2nd 2023