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How To Tell If A Company Is Sustainable

Posted by Melanie Fisher on
How To Tell If A Company Is Sustainable

If only we could just slap a green sticker on product labels and get back to actually helping the planet recover.

Buying products is something we all do, but making those choices comes with consequences. Everything from our washing detergent, clothes and stationery, to electronics, food and our personal care is made differently, to a different set of standards. Right now, it's our job to understand what those standards are and whether we're happy with them before we commit to spending money.

Researching companies takes time and not all of us are in a position to be able to afford the time, let alone the luxury of investing cash into brands that have high environmental standards. Which is why if you can, you should, but if you can't there are some quick and easy ways you can still learn about brands you're interested in. 

A great way to do a first-pass assessment is to check for certifications or community memberships. Some of this can be completed at a computer, some can be found on the physical product itself. But, be aware that not all sustainable brands can afford certifications (they can run into the £1000's) neither are they all large enough to qualify. So, this is a great tool for looking at the larger companies you might find in the supermarket. Which, on the whole, require more regulations since they produce products at scale and can cause more damage.

So let's look at some communities and initiatives which will indicate that a brand is more likely to be values-aligned.

1. 1% For The Planet 

Created by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard this initiative asks businesses to donate 1% of gross annual sales to environmental projects. It's phenomenal because it's funded countless projects around the world. But their impact can be hard to measure. Do you think a donation adds to or detracts from the task of tackling the direct impact of the business?


2. Certified B Corporation (or For-Benefit Corporation)

The BCorp movement is a community of businesses who put people and planet before profit. Their commitment isn't superficial either, but written into articles within their legal structure. Bcorp's put stakeholder interest at the heart of their business decisions (not just shareholder). The environment features heavily and the process to be certified is something that takes a lot of time and thought, plus has to be maintained every few years. However, they do not exclude any industry, and certify contentious organisations like bottled water companies. However, with that in mind, it is important to note that we need polluters to set standards just as much as we need great companies to do even better. What do you think?


3. Cradle To Cradle Certified (or C2C)

The Cradle To Cradle certification is a thorough process through which a product is assessed for its circularity, safe and healthy materials, social fairness, water and soil stewardship, renewable energy and carbon management. It's incredibly concise, thorough and is constantly updated, with public reviews on it's adjustments. Circularity refers to the repeatable lifecycle of a product, where the materials used are recycled or upcycled at the end of its life. If all products had this stamp, we would have solved a lot of problems. But, on the flip side it isn't the cheapest to do and the complexity could be off-putting. For me, it's the first thing that inspired me to get involved in sustainability, and sets the bar to where it needs to be.


4. Canopy

This is a vital scheme that works with 750 organisations across the world, mainly in fashion, who use a 'sustainable' material as an alternative to cotton called modal. Canopy insist the use of this fabric is increasing rates of deforestation in critical forests and rainforests. Though you won't see this label on clothes in the shops (yet), it's worth checking the website. If you see 'eco-friendly' or 'sustainable fibers' on your clothes, perhaps it's time to check where they're actually harvested from.



5. SA 8000

This is a global certificate that sets standards for social metrics rather than environmental, for both factories and organisations. It tells us that the company who has this symbol is upholding human rights standards across their workforce and entire operations. Things like child labour, forced labor, discrimination, working hours are all scrutinised. This is ever so important to layer on top of environmental credentials as without racial justice there can be no climate justice. Is the supply chain of your fave brand SA 8000 compliant?


6. Positive

Positive is a community-orientated initiative, bringing together change-maker businesses that seek to operate in a Regenerative economy. They focus on pushing their community to be carbon neutral and zero waste by 2030, by assisting with tools & knowledge, and holding businesses to account. It's new and bold, we ourselves are a member.


7. Good Market 

Good Market is a global platform of curated members, comprising of social enterprises, cooperatives, responsible businesses, voluntary initiatives, networks, and changemakers. Based in Sri Lanka but with a global footprint, GM's ambition is to connect and initiate a move to create an economy that is good for people and planet. Zero Waste Goods is proud to be a member. On the site you can browse and contact social enterprises and businesses, knowing they've gone through a thorough process across core principles of business operation including environment, workers, customers, suppliers and more. 


There are so many of these types of certifications. Our latest series will be expanding further on what certifications you can easily identify to help you shop better. Sign up to our newsletter for more.


Our sources: 

  • https://www.gov.uk/guidance/organic-food-labelling-rules
  • https://www.ctpa.org.uk/resources-claims
  • https://ecocult.com/eco-friendly-ethical-sustainable-labels-certifications-clothing-fashion/
  • https://ethical.net/guide/sustainability-certifications-which-can-you-trust/
  • https://naturaler.co.uk/most-eco-friendly-supermarket-uk/

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