So what do we mean when we say “sustainable product”?
At Nside the Box we look at how the product is made, where a product is made, how it is packaged, and how long it will last. To us, sustainability is a combination of environmental health, community, and social equity, which leads to economic growth.
HOW IS THE SUSTAINABLE PRODUCT MADE?
The way that products are made has a profound effect on the planet. Everything from the materials, to the manufacturing processes, to energy sources and how waste is handled can affect whether an item is viewed as sustainable or not. Sustainable products leave a smaller footprint on the environment. This is why we choose to work with small businesses, independent artists, and makers because their efforts to maintain sustainable products are evident. Product labeling like B-Corp and Fair Trade are also good ways to tell if a product/company has applied and passed an independent rating system to be certified in one of these categories.
People are becoming more educated about sustainable and biodegradable materials like bamboo and cork. They are familiar with post-consumer recycled materials like recycled paper and recycled aluminum, and organic and natural materials like wood and hemp.
But it often requires more research to discover what’s actually happening in the factories where they are produced. If you are curious about a specific brand look at the website to see what they say about the sustainability of their business practices. Look for brands that mention using energy-efficient machines, recycling, and practicing waste reduction. If a brand’s website doesn’t say anything about how its products are made, consider that a red flag.
2. HOW IS IT PACKAGED?
It’s also important to consider the way that products are packaged and distributed. For instance, a product might be sustainable but be packaged in a really wasteful way. (Like the products that are encased in plastic that is so hard to cut you feel like you need to have a medic on stand by in case the knife slips...) It’s best if you can find items where sustainability is prioritized at every step.
A good sign is if a brand uses packaging that’s made of reusable or post-consumer recycled materials. This means that the packaging is made out of something that has been diverted from landfills. You can also minimize plastic packaging by purchasing products that come in glass containers that can be refilled.
At Nside the Box our gift boxes are made from recycled material and are intended to be reused by the recipient. Our packaging material is recycled, our packing peanuts are made from starch, and we ship on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to reduce the number of trips for delivery services. You can still shop sustainably online! In instances where you’d be driving from store to store to find the right product, it can even be more sustainable to order online and let your items be delivered in the mail. (We recently heard that we can think of the postal service like public transportation for goods!)
3. HOW LONG DO SUSTAINABLE PRODUCTS LAST?
One last thing to consider when picking sustainable products is how long they will last. Can you continue to use it for years to come? For instance, an item that you’ll use over and over again will be more sustainable than something you’ll just use once and throw away. Examples of sustainable products that you can reuse include cloth napkins instead of paper towels, a metal water bottle instead of single-use plastic bottles, reusable food storage instead of baggies.
When it seems you've reached the end of using a product, can you repurpose it?
Could you plant a little succulent in that used (and cleaned) candle jar?
Could you refill that pump bottle instead of tossing it in the bin?
And when you're sure you have finished with it you could donate it, swap it, or depending on what it is - sell it.
The longer an item stays out of a landfill the better.
* Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps form a community of leaders and drive a global movement of people using business as a force for good.
* Certified fair-trade is a movement whose goal is to help producers in developing countries to get a fair price for their products so as to reduce poverty, provide for the ethical treatment of workers and farmers, and promote environmentally sustainable practices.