8 Ways to Know If a Brand Is Actually Sustainable

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As you learn how to be more eco-friendly, you become more attentive to the goods you purchase. After all, while it’s important the items you use daily are eco-friendly, it’s not just about being a single person. It also comes down to the production of the goods, the mission of the company and even their global carbon footprint.

But how exactly do you determine if a company is as eco-friendly as they claim? Here are eight ways to know if a brand is actually sustainable (and not just using greenwashing techniques to fool consumers). With these handy tricks, seek out and support genuine earth-conscious brands, from furniture and decor, fashion and cosmetics to even electronics and accessories like eco-friendly phone cases.

#1 Understand the Terminology

Instead of being greenwashed and falling for the earth-toned packaging, along with words like “all-natural” and “handmade,” get familiar with real sustainable terms. For example, when you look for eco-friendly AirPods cases, make sure they are 100 percent compostable, not just biodegradable. Why? Because these mean two very different things and one is not like the other.

While “sustainable” is an umbrella term, there are many more to get familiar with! And once you do, you can make a more informed decision, prioritizing what matters to you most, whether it’s products that are vegan and cruelty-free, ethical and fair trade or carbon neutral.

#2 Visit the Brand’s Website

Search the brand’s website, making sure not to view it through green-colored glasses. As you scan each page, look for full transparency. Sure, the green-friendly terminology is there for all to see, but how do they back up these claims? How, exactly, are they sustainable?

For this, dig a little deeper, seeking answers to the following questions:

  • Does the site say anything about the brand’s ethics and sustainability? No? Then that’s probably not a great sign.
  • What is their supply chain? Truly sustainable brands are proud to reveal renewable resources and the tremendous efforts to make the production ethical.
  • Are there details about the factory conditions or the treatment of their workers? (i.e., non-discrimination and fair wages)
  • What is the brand’s total carbon footprint? Many brands strive for low-carbon, but that doesn’t equate for all direct and indirect emissions.
  • Do they donate to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or environmental charities?

Bottom line: Look past the marketing gimmicks and pay attention to the fine print. Slapping a green label on their packaging (website included!) doesn’t make it automatically sustainable. This is where knowing your terminology will come in handy!

#3 Read Up on the Brand’s Story and Mission Statement

Hopefully, you should find some mission statement or story on the website, loud and proud of their sustainable core values. If not, do your research and look into who founded the brand and why it was founded. Snoop around and see if the president or founders of the brand are human beings who actually consider the environment in their daily lives. Look for interviews and articles about the company, which can offer a glimpse into their motivations.

If you can’t find the founder and only a name with a business-like sounding name like “holding” or “incorporation,” the brand may have other goals in mind than saving the earth.

#4 Verify Any Green Certifications and Standards

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Official green certifications are an easy way for consumers to identify sustainable brands. Luckily, there are many certifications and standards out there that set high standards, ensuring what you are buying is legit.

Having said that, keep in mind the certifications cost money. This means that while more prominent brands can fork out the cash once they meet the rigorous requirements, other smaller businesses can’t afford it. So pay attention to the underdogs, too. Just because they can’t afford the rights to print the green label on their products doesn’t mean they are not worthy – or more worthy – of the recognition.

Once again, watch out for that terminology! Fair Trade Certified is much different than simply the “fair trade” marketing catchphrase. 

#5 Investigate to Confirm Your Findings

Once you find a brand that aligns with your values, keep a watch on them. Follow them on social media and articles, paying attention to the responses they give other earth-conscious consumers. Do they glaze over the question and give a lazy answer? Or do they respond with hard facts? Sometimes, answers can reveal a lot about a brand. If you are so bold, ask them a question yourself!  

#6 Check Sustainability Ratings

Use ethical shopping apps and websites to check the brand’s sustainability rating. EthicalConsumer.org is a fantastic site that does all the work for you. All you have to do is search for the name of the brand and voila! And if you’re on the go, a great app is Good On You, but with a focus on ethical fashion.  

#7 Subscribe to Their Newsletter

Yes, even emails have a carbon footprint. However, if it’s for a good cause, such as living a more sustainable lifestyle, subscribing to a few ethical brands and informative blogs can keep you in the loop with great content. Even if you subscribe for a month or two to get the gist of what their mission and ethical standards are all about and unsubscribe later, it can help.

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#8 Don’t Be Shy – Ask the Brand Directly!

If you have exhausted all your options and still can’t determine if the brand is truly sustainable, ask them directly! Be specific in your questions, inquiring about green certifications, ethical standards and more.

The good news is that these days you don’t have to write a letter or call customer service (although you can do that, too). Instead, all you have to do is DM the brand through social media. If they give the same runaround as their website, it might be a hard pass. Remember: The sign of an honest and authentic sustainable brand will love that you asked and be thrilled to share their process.