In recent years we have heard the terms sustainability and eco-friendly thrown a lot. While brands claim to be eco-friendly and sustainable what do these words actually mean? Is there any truth to these claims? And how do you shop for eco-friendly products? Let's find out.
What does eco-friendly mean?
Carbon dioxide (CO2) levels today are higher than at any point in human history because of the fossil fuels we are burning for energy to create, sell, and ship goods and services. The high levels of CO2 are dramatically warming our planet and creating a significant change in the climate.
The dire need to shop and demand sustainable and eco-friendly products has never been higher.
Global supply chains are not perfect, and nearly all products on some level are affected by practices that are unsustainable. Accordingly, eco-friendly products don’t mean that they completely don’t harm the environment in any way. It means they are better for the environment when compared to normal production.
However, shopping for sustainable and eco-friendly products is hard. Brands use vague terms and misleading claims that make customers think that their brands are good for the environment.
This has created enormous consumer confusion about what green and sustainable really means and there is a growing trend among consumers to throw up our hands and resign that all sustainability efforts as just marketing.
It is important to remember though it is possible to shop for products that are actually sustainable.
There are real sustainable, eco-friendly products out there
In this guide, we help make sustainable shopping easier for you.
We breakdown how to spot misleading marketing tactics -- also known as greenwashing -- and share sustainability certifications you should look out for when you are shopping.
What is greenwashing?
Greenwashing is a practice where brands claim that their product is environmentally beneficial and their practices are good for the environment, but they are actually not. Terms such as "free of", "ozone-friendly", "non-toxic", and "less waste" are a few examples of brands using misleading terms. It also comes in these ways:
- Brands making their products “look” eco-friendly rather than investing time and money to actually make it more eco-friendly
- Brands rolling out products that are made from alternative materials that end up being more harmful than traditional materials
Of course, these are just marketing claims that may not be rooted in reality. This is where you need to be updated and do research so you are not fooled by these redundant claims.
How to spot misleading marketing?
Here are a few ways you can spot such marketing and buy products that are sustainable and eco-friendly.
#1 Lack of Transparency
Of course, a company can keep saying they are sustainable and eco-friendly but does research back their claims? Are the products backed by a credible third party certification?
Bottom line -- if there is no easily available evidence or facts that show that they use such practices then it is highly likely it is just a greenwashing tactic. If you can’t easily double-check a company’s claims, the company or brand may not be eco-friendly.
#2 Over the Top Claims
Any brand that is making an overly ambitious claim such as being “100% natural”, “completely sustainable and toxin-free”, and similar claims are most likely not trying to mislead their consumers.
If a brand is making extremely bold claims about their product's sustainability qualities and is not able to provide transparency -- Double-check their claims and then make an informed decision.
#3 Branding Tactics
Many companies use branding tactics to make the consumer think they are green. For example, a brand may use earthy tones on their packaging to convey their product is eco-friendly and sustainable. Customers are tricked into thinking that if the packaging looks earthy and healthy then so will the product inside.
Don't fall for the visual appeal of the product. Read the fine print and check out the labels and ingredients on the packaging to double-check if the ingredients used are sustainable and eco-friendly.
How to find sustainable products?
Now that you know how to spot fake claims, you need to find products that have verified claims and are actually sustainable. This is where certifications come in. They need to be certified by the relevant boards for their product to be sustainable.
Cradle to Cradle is a globally recognized measure of safer, more sustainable products brands receive for their persistence to commit to the circular economy.
Brands are scored on the basis of energy efficiency, waste reduction, efficient utilization of materials and other resources, and social responsibility. A product is assigned an achievement level (Basic, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum) for each category. It is also known as the C2C certification.
Ecocert certifies organic practices. It mainly focuses on certifying organic food and food products. Ecocert is a France-based company that certifies more than 30% of organic products worldwide. However, they now also certify organic textiles, cosmetics, perfumes, and detergents.
Energy Star scores companies based on the energy savings they contribute to. The criteria that are supposed to be met are set by the Energy Protection Agency (EPA) for different products. Once those guidelines are followed and a brand falls under the category of energy-efficient they then get this certification on their products.
EPEAT certifies brands that produce sustainable electronics. This includes all kinds of gadgets such as phones, television, computers, or any other electronic equipment.
Oeko-Tex certifies textiles and fabrics that are safe for use and free of any harmful chemicals. They also certify the way any textile is processed. For example, if finishes and dyes in clothing have harmful ingredients in them then they will not get an Oeko-Tex certification.
The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) is the worldwide leading textile processing standard for organic fibers, including ecological and social criteria, backed up by independent certification of the entire textile supply chain.
USDA Bio-based certification is given to products that use ingredients that come from renewable biological sources. The label also identifies the amount of such content that is present in the specific product. The purpose of this certification is to move consumers towards products that are made from renewable sources and away from products that depend on fossil fuels.
Climate Neutral Certified is a company that is working towards reducing emissions from factories. A Climate Neutral certification means that the brand has committed to keeping its carbon emissions low. Brands have to record their emissions and send their reports to Climate Neutral. Climate Neutral will then assess these numbers and the brands that don’t reduce these will have to commit to working towards reducing their emissions and every year it will be reviewed.
Climate Neutral has strict guidelines that need to be followed and if not the brand will not be certified as being Climate Neutral.
Leaping Bunny certifies cruelty-free brands. The products that have a leaping bunny logo are certified, meaning that they don't test on animals and no animals have been harmed during the production of their product.
Fair Trade certified mostly applies to products such as wine, coffee, tea, clothing, personal care, and chocolate. This means that the labor is not exploited and the model is sustainable and beneficial to all parties involved.
The FSC certification is considered the "gold standard" designation for wood harvested from forests that are responsibly managed, socially beneficial, environmentally conscious, and economically viable
USDA Organic applies to fresh and processed foods. The USDA sets standards for farms and they need to produce organically to meet this criterion. Once their method is approved and the seal is given it means that the food is produced organically and sustainably.
While there are many more certifications and labels these cover most of the industries and will help you find products that are eco-friendly and sustainable.
Making the conscious decision to switch to an eco-friendly and sustainable lifestyle is not easy. At Salvos we try to make your life easier by only curating genuinely sustainable products that meet these rigorous standards. However, this guide will help you in moving forward in a sustainable direction. You will be able to identify products that actually claim to be what they are and it will help you in making better decisions in the future. Save the planet and yourself one sustainable product at a time!