What makes a product sustainable?
Otherwise known as eco-friendly, nature-friendly and/or green. These terms are actually quite hard to define but most definitions boil down to whether or not the process of making the product, or the product itself is damaging to the environment.
Thankfully, more and more resources are becoming available to help us bertter identify truly sustainable products. For example, the EU established the Ecolabel scheme in 1992 which is recognised worldwide. “The EU Ecolabel is a label of environmental excellence that is awarded to products and services meeting high environmental standards throughout their life-cycle: from raw material extraction, to production, distribution and disposal.
The EU Ecolabel criteria also encourages companies to develop products that are durable, easy to repair and recycle”. So chances are if you see this label on a product you can be a lot more certain of its green credentials.
What is the definition of a sustainable product?
According to Wikipedia “Sustainable products are those products that provide environmental, social and economic benefits while protecting public health and environment over their whole life cycle, from the extraction of raw materials until the final disposal”.
For me the biggest takeaway here is in regards to a product’s life cycle. A truly sustainable product should be environmentally-friendly throughout its entire life cycle. I take that to mean from the moment it is fabricated, to the moment it becomes waste, it has a minimal negative effect be it environmentally, socially or economically. So does that mean that a product can only really be called sustainable if it’s made ethically and from sustainable materials that do not harm the planet once they decompose? Personally, I think so.
I’ll be honest, I have used the word “sustainable” when describing our products in the past as some definitions do include products that are made from recycled materials, however after reading up on the subject I am starting to think this is not the most appropriate word to describe our products based on my new definition of the term.
How do I know if I am buying a sustainable product?
After quite a bit of research I will be trying to ask myself three main questions before making purchasing decisions moving forward. If it fits the three following criteria I feel comfortable in classing it as “sustainable”:
1. Is this product made from renewable resources?
Take trees for instance, trees are an excellent sustainable resource when managed responsibly, however some resources are considered more responsible than others. For example bamboo is seen to be far more sustainable than oak or cotton as it needs far less water to grow and it also grows incredibly quickly. A good way to check if a product has been made from responsibly farmed forests is to look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) logo on packing.
2. Is this product biodegradable?
So the scientific definition of a biodegradable material is “materials that are part of the earth’s innate cycles like the carbon cycle and capable of decomposing back into natural elements.”
Leading authorities worldwide stipulate that to gain a biodegradable certiﬁcation, a product must break down within 90 days in a commercial compost and 180 days in domestic compost conditions, including worm farm compost. After degradation, they must leave no harmful residues behind. Sounds simple right? Unfortunately it can be very misleading.
The problem is that some biodegradable products like PLA (polylactic acid) which are made of products like corn actually need to be broken down using high levels of heat and precise moisture control so if they end up in landfill with everything else they can take between 100-1000 years to decompose.
3. Was this product manufactured ethically?
Was someone paid a living wage to make this product? A living wage is defined as the minimum income necessary for a worker to meet their basic needs which changes from country t country. There are organisations all over the world fighting for workers rights including The Living Wage Foundation in the UK. Websites like the www.ethicalconsumer.org or the www.directory.goodonyou.eco can also help you make more responsible purchasing decisions.
So how will this all affect our terminology and marketing at The Rainbow Revival?
For me it means removing the term "sustainable" from our website and replacing it with the word “recycled”. We are doing our bit to stop single-use plastic inflatables going to landfill by giving them second lives as accessories, but we know our products won’t last forever and that they will inevitably end up going to landfill at a later stage so why pretend otherwise?
So there we have it, a few tips which might help you better navigate the eco-friendly/ sustainable minefield. If we can all make small, well informed choices together we may well have a shot at turning this situation around.