The more you know about what to look for in the products you use, the better chance you have of making eco-conscious buying decisions
The global population is on track to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. If we carry on with our current way of life, we would need the equivalent of almost three planets to provide the necessary natural resources to sustain us. Now, I’m no environmental scientist, but I'm pretty sure that three natural-resource-producing planets aren’t an option at this point!
So what options are we left with? Let’s start with our choices as consumers.
Our purchasing habits play a major role in our journey to become the inhabitants our planet deserves. We have a duty to preserve and protect our environment, which means we need to buy products with minimal environmental impact when possible, and to support brands that take sustainability seriously. It’s a lot of responsibility. But if we don’t do it, we won’t have a planet to be responsible for.
Here are some things to consider when purchasing eco-friendly products...
Look at the full picture
A truly eco-friendly product passes sustainable and ethical standards throughout its entire life cycle—from the product itself to its packaging to the organization behind it. Consider what is happening behind the scenes of the product by researching the company and its practices so that you can make an informed buying decision.
For example, a company may have a clothing line that it touts as “conscious” and it may indeed be made from eco-friendly materials. But if purchasing products from that line means you are also supporting a company that doesn’t treat or pay its employees well, and the rest of its products consist of highly unsustainable fast fashion (which you happen to also purchase while you’re there), then this is not overall a sustainable choice.
Many organizations will release a sustainability report sharing their environmental impact, hiring practices and steps they are taking to improve their sustainability. Dig into the company online to find what values they represent and practice. Look at the entire economic loop to support responsible production and consumption and make an informed purchasing decision.
Look for specific certifications and wording
Greenwashing can lead us to believe that a product is eco-friendly when it doesn’t truly meet standards, so it’s important to know what to look for. A sticker of a tree or the words “sustainable”, “eco-friendly” or “made with recycled materials” are not sufficient to prove that a product is as environmentally friendly as possible.
Look for detailed and thorough wording such as:
- “Made with 100 percent recycled material”
- “Made with 100 percent all-natural ingredients”
- “100 percent biodegradable”
- “This product will break down into non-toxic material in 10 to 15 years”
Look for green certification labels such:
- Energy Star – for appliances and electronics that save energy
- USDA Organic seal – for cosmetics and foods that are truly organic
- Green Seal – for cleaning products that are actually safer for the environment
- Forest Stewardship Council logo – for paper and wood products
Look at the materials and ingredients used
Once you are familiar with the breakdown of what materials are sustainable and what aren't, you won’t have to just rely on certifications to tell you that your purchasing decision is a conscious one. These are materials that do not harm our environment, the beings on it or deplete our natural resources.
Check the label, tag or packaging of your product—if it contains toxic pesticides or herbicides, it is detrimental to the environment. The more natural and fewer ingredients, the better! Look for items that are biodegradable, 100 percent organic, all-natural or made from recycled materials using renewable resources. For example, clothing made from cotton, hemp or linen is much more sustainable than clothing made from plastic-containing fabrics.
Here are some components to avoid:
- Microbeads, which flow into our water systems and pose a threat to the digestive systems of animals that consume them. Avoid labels that contain words like “microbeads”, “microabrasives”, “polypropylene” or “polythylene”.
- DHA and BHT, which are preservatives often found in makeup and moisturizers, but are suspected to cause genetic alterations and DNA damage.
- Phosphates, which create algae blooms in water and use up the oxygen available to sustain marine life.
- Surfactants or surface-active agents, which are chemicals that reduce the surface tension of oil and water, breaking down the mucous layer that protects fish from parasites, bacteria and pollutants.
- Parabens, which are often used as preservatives in pharmaceutical and beauty products and disrupt hormone function, which poses a threat to the health of animals and humans.
- All non-biodegradable plastics (electronics, toys, cosmetics, straws, containers, bags, cups and more), which will never fully break down and will release toxins into the environment that threaten animals and contribute to global warming.
- Animal or plant products that may have been sourced unethically.
There are many more, so the more you can familiarize yourself with what to look for in the products you use, the better chance you have of making the right purchasing decision for the environment.
A lot of the effort of being an eco-conscious consumer comes from the educational aspect of learning what is truly sustainable. Reading this article is a great start! We must continue to research and practice eco-friendly choices, and we will be on our way to making our planet a more sustainable and healthier place.