Originally published Eco Warrior Princess – How To Be A Smarter Consumer
In the last few years, brands and consumers alike are jumping on the eco trend. Conscious consumerism is a really powerful movement that we should fully embrace, creating more transparency around the products we buy and the effects they have on people and the planet. The downside is, however, brands jumping on the trend without action using misleading green marketing. This term is called ‘greenwashing’, falsely implying that a product or company is environmentally friendly. The effects of greenwashing are harmful, confusing to consumers and slowing down the companies that are genuinely doing good things.
More than 95% of consumer products claiming to be green were found to commit at least one of the “Sins of Greenwashing”, The Sins of Greenwashing TerraChoice 2010
Our purchasing decisions are significantly affected by marketing. One example is The BodyShop. The brand has carefully crafted an eco-friendly, natural and ethical image, yet there are multiple reports of the company using unethical cheap labour and potentially harmful synthetic chemicals. Don’t rely on government regulations, here are some questions to ask next time you purchase something…
1. Why am I buying this?
The first step in all purchasing situations is to question, why am I buying this? Advertising has created growth in consumerism, causing people to run out and buy 10 of every item without question. Next time you are about to buy something, take a step back and question if you are buying it because you need it or if you’re being told to. One article by The Huffington Post describes Black Friday, “The lines between need and want blur away as the shopping lists are checked off, check-out lines grow longer and longer…”
2. What is it made from?
There are multiple ways to go about looking into what a product is made from. Words like “natural” are unregulated labeling, therefore look on the back of the packaging for the ingredient list. If there are any complicated words in the ingredients list, it might be worth giving it a quick search online. The seven-minute film ‘Story of Cosmetics’ by Annie Leonard helps debunk the hazardous chemicals in everyday personal care products. Another option is to scan the product using the app Think Dirty, “we empower the ingredient-conscious consumers to choose the safety beauty + personal products”.
In terms of clothing, check the label and do your research. Clothing material can get confusing for example, t-shirts marketed as ‘natural bamboo‘ might be mixed with significant amounts of cheap synthetic material. From my own research, I have found that natural materials are generally more sustainable. Green Choices’ recent article explains sustainable fabrics further. Information on material and sourcing should also be available on the brand website in the ‘About’ section or ‘FAQs’, if it’s it not…email them to ask!
The Fashion Revolution global movement, ignited by the Rana Plaza collapse in 2013, created a powerful question to consumers of ‘who made my clothes‘? The organisation encourages the fashion industry and consumers to value people, the environment, creativity and profit in equal measure. It’s an important question to ask when purchasing items, I want to know that whoever made my clothes was treated fairly. Research the brand online, their website should have information on where and who makes the clothing. The next step is to ask the brand, take a picture with the label and tag them on Instagram or email them. Another option is to look into the brand via online reports or apps such as ‘Good On You‘, just be mindful of how the data is captured.
4. Are there any verified certification labels?
Certification is not essential for a product or company to be ethical or sustainable, however it does provide evidence to the consumer. Below are some examples of certification that can help guide conscious purchasing.
- Fair Trade – ensuring workers are paid & treated fairly
- B Corp – certifying that a business ‘does good’ for people, the planet or animals
- Ethical Clothing Australia – accreditation that the company’s supply chains are transparent & legal
- Australian Certified Organic – self-explanatory
- Soil Association – organic certification