What is a Truly Sustainable Product?

What is a Truly Sustainable Product?

As consumer demand for sustainable products grows, so too do the incentives for companies to take advantage of demand for sustainable products by selling “greenwashed | Learn more on Commonshare |” products that sound environmentally friendly but aren’t. 
The question for so many sustainability-minded customers, then, is how to spot the real thing from the fakes. Fortunately, there are sustainability experts who have given this issue a lot of thought. 
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Attentiveness Toward the Planet
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For sustainability | Learn more on Commonshare | advocate, writer, and lecturer Gittemaire Johansen, sustainability is defined as “attentiveness toward the planet as well as its inhabitants.” What does that mean in practice? Johansen says that it means “taking [many] things like material sourcing, natural resources, production waste, chemical usage, wastewater management, shipping, lifespan, disposal, and recycling, into consideration when making or buying a product.”
Johansen’s main piece of advice is to start by refusing anything one doesn’t need, anything that cannot be shown to be sustainably made or sourced. 
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Educating One’s Self
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Taking responsibility for one’s own sustainability education is an important aspect of learning how to spot the green-washed fakes and find the authentically sustainable products. True sustainability comes from everything involved in the creation of a product. 
This does mean learning to recognize and accept gray areas. The reality is that essentially no product will be 100% perfectly sustainable: there will inevitably be waste at some point of a product’s lifecycle. 
As Rajan Roy, creator of the newsletter Fashion x Sustainability, explains, evaluating the environmental impact of every product “is rife with contradictions and complexities.” Roy gives the example of switching a t-shirt line to organic cotton | Learn more on Commonshare |. It is unquestionably a win for sustainability – but, as Roy explains, there’s still “the water consumption in the production of the cotton” to consider.
With that said, it is still quite possible to make an impact. The key is to make a difference wherever one can. And to do that, it’s helpful to know a few red flags to look for.
Red Flags
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A few red flags to question when shopping include the following:
| Larger brands tend to rely on mass production, which is inherently less sustainable. 
| Greenwashing: a product labeled “green,” “eco,” or “sustainable” that does not have further information, a certification of some kind, should be avoided as a greenwashed product until you can do further research.  
| Plastic packaging | Learn more on Commonshare | that does not mention being upcycled. 
| Unpronounceable ingredients. 
| Products made a great distance away – they are more likely to have a greater carbon footprint.
| Miscellaneous ingredients to avoid include palm oil | Learn more on Commonshare |, microplastics, parabens, and synthetic fibers. ———————————–
Authenticity and Transparency 
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On the other hand, authenticity and transparency can go a long way toward establishing the truly sustainable status of a brand. 
As Clarissa Egana, founder of women’s athleisure brand Port de Bras, explains, it’s a good idea to look for transparency, “ask questions, find videos of the production and sourcing, and ask for certificates.”
Egana sources locally, hires local people, supports charities, plants trees, and does as much upcycling | Learn more on Commonshare | as possible. She’s part of a growing movement in the fashion industry, one that aims to make the industry genuinely greener and more sustainable. 
Words to Look For 
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Truly sustainable brands often have certifications. In addition, there are some key words to look for: 
| Natural and/or organic
| Biodegradable fibers
| Conscious packaging
| Locally sourced
| Ethically made
| Fair trade
| Artisanal 
| Slow production
| Made-to-order
| Upcycled
| Compliant with European environmental regulations (typically much tighter than those of the United States).   

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