- It’s no secret that shopping sustainably can often be more expensive than shopping traditional brands. By outsourcing labor to factories overseas that do not follow ethical guidelines and choosing materials that are less sustainable but cheaper, brands can pay less for manufacturing and make a bigger profit.
- However, we often forget that a “price” can be more than financial. Do we value a financial dollar more than our neighbors well-being? Is saving a few dollars enough to justify profiting off of vulnerable communities? Many of the resources we are depleting, and the environmental effects these processes are causing when we purchase non-sustainable goods, are nonrenewable. We cannot buy them back, and they truly cannot be labeled with a financial cost at all, they are priceless.
- So, what do we weigh? What truly costs more?
- Greenwashing, the process of conveying something falsely of being sustainable or “green,” is a trap consumers fall into all too often. Sustainable can mean so many different things, so we want to be transparent on the guidelines and rubric we used when looking at brands to choose to include.
- We also acknowledge that sustainability and ethics are jointly related. Can something really be ethical if it isn’t sustainable? If we are buying non-sustainable items how does that affect not only our human neighbors but also our animal neighbors? Is it ethical for our modern luxuries as a developed nation to cause environmental impacts to target and affect lower-developed nations who do not partake in the same luxuries? Likewise, can something be sustainable if it is not ethical? Can we honestly allow ourselves to continue to profit off of business models that operate at the expense of marginalized communities?
- Our rubric combines principles of ethics and sustainability to assess brands holistically. While not every brand is perfect, we hope to highlight the brands striving for better practices, while also noting places that can be improved. Below are the categories we consider when auditing brands, and some guiding questions we use.
- Labor Are laborers manufacturing the products treated ethically? Are they given fair wages, or even living wages? What are factory conditions like? Are workers allowed to unionize? Cruelty-Free How are animals treated? Are materials sourced from vulnerable or endangered plants or animals? Is the product tested on animals? Is the product vegan? If not, does the brand adhere to animal welfare policies?
- Ownership - Who is benefiting from the business's profits? Is it a marginalized group or a larger corporation profiting? Do the profits go to a vulnerable group? Is this a small business, USA-made, owned by a BIPOC, woman, or LGBTQ+ identifying person? Does the brand make an effort to distribute the wealth?
- Usability - Is this product worth the energy expenditure? Is it a necessity? Is it a quality product that can be used or worn multiple times?
- Resource Base - What materials is the product made out of? Is it carbon-intensive to make? Is it a renewable resource? Are the materials toxic for the workers or the environment? Where are the materials sourced? Are the farming or growing practices used to produce the material environmentally friendly? What is the packaging made out of?
- Manufacturing - How energy-intensive is the manufacturing process? What type of energy do the factories use? Where are the factories located in conjunction with where materials are produced? How are the air, water, and waste emissions? Is waste disposed of effectively?
- Transportation - Where is the product coming from? Is it being shipped from across the world? Is it by air or road? Or sea or rail? What are the carbon emissions associated with shipping?
- Circularity - Can the product be reused or recycled? Is it made of materials that can go back into the environment safely? Will it end up in the landfill? Is the product disposable with minimal impact? Is the product made with recyclable goods, or designed in a circular model?
Certifications can be confusing. It's easy to combine a bunch of letters and slap it with a sustainable or ethical label, so we did the research for you. These are common certifications brands carry that are certified by legitimate third-party associations and do carry ethical and sustainable weight.
- FSC The Forest Stewardship Council is an international organization that promotes responsible management of the world's forests, focusing on ensuring responsibly sourced wood that meets strict ethical guidelines for laborers.
- BCI The Better Cotton Initiative is the world's largest cotton sustainability program in the world, incorporating manufacturers, brands, retailers, farmers, ginners, spinners, and suppliers into their processes. The initiative works to educate farmers on more sustainable farming processes, increasing yields and financial security. Monitoring soil and water management, the initiative works to transform the cotton sector to meet our new sustainable future.
- Fair Trade Fair Trade is an ethical accreditation that guarantees brands ensure safe working conditions, workers' rights, and fair pay. Fair Trade protects traditionally less developed or growing countries while attempting to decrease the inequalities between themselves and buyers and manufacturers monopolizing in developed countries. Social premiums paid by buyers go directly to the producer groups of the goods, allowing them to direct exactly where the funds go, often into community initiatives such as schools, farming equipment, or water projects.
- GOTS The Global Organic Textile Standard monitors textile processing manufacturing, packaging, labeling, trading, and distribution of textiles. Brands seeking this certification must use at least 70% organic fibers, therefore minimizing pesticide and water use. The organic nature of the products is inherently more environmentally friendly due to the minimal chemical use. GOTS also considers social and humanitarian criteria, as GOTS-certified units must adhere to the bylaws of the International Labor Organization and a separate internal audit done by GOTS.
- OEKO-TEX Oeko-Tex is an international textile and fabric certification that audits chemicals used in manufacturing throughout the entire supply process, helping ensure sustainable production practices. Oeko-Tex offers a variety of different certifications depending on the product type, which can be further explained on their website.
- GOLS The Global Organic Latex Standard is a material and processing standard for organic latex. The certification considers human welfare, as well as environmental welfare during the manufacturing process.
- Organic materials can be certified in multiple ways. In the US, the USDA organic certification is the most common and weighty. Organic products often require less water use, minimizing resource impact, as well as protecting soil health by minimizing the use of pesticides and fertilizers.