Each of us wants to do our part to support the environment, but finding tangible actions to take that have a positive impact on the planet can feel overwhelming. Everything from the foods we eat to the way we commute affects the Earth. So where is a good place to start?
One simple way to incorporate sustainability into our daily lives is to find environmentally-friendly alternatives to the products we’re already buying. While it's true that all products require some amount of land, water, and possibly fossil fuels to create and use, choosing sustainable products can greatly reduce the volume of natural resources consumed in production. So it’s important to know how to choose products that both meet our needs and are more sustainable.
There are a lot of factors that can influence whether a purchase is considered a sustainable product or not. Is it made sustainably? Is it packaged with recycled or eco-friendly materials? Can you continue to reuse it in your home for years to come?
It can feel like a lot to think about when you’re in a store aisle, we know. But don’t worry! In the following sections, we’ve provided three questions to ask each time you’re shopping that will guide you to the most sustainable product for your family. But first...
What does sustainable product really mean?
There are a lot of words out there to talk about people’s relationship with the environment. Eco-friendly, green, natural, organic, sustainable. Trying to buy sustainable products can be really confusing because these terms are thrown around somewhat indiscriminately. So what do we mean when we say “sustainable product”?
To us, sustainability is about the integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality. At Prosperity Candle, our mission is to offer sustainable candles that are good for the environment and give back to women artisans who are building brighter futures for themselves and their families after resettling as refugees to the U.S. Because of that, we hold that sustainable products must ensure the well-being of future generations while making sure that the people alive now have what they need to thrive.
Since there is no regulated definition of the term “sustainable” in the U.S. economy, those who wish to create sustainable homes have often needed to do their own research.
To make it easier, we're sharing three helpful tips to common questions you may have around sustainable products and their environmental impact:
1. How is the sustainable product made?
The way that products are made has a profound effect on the planet. Everything from the materials that a product is made of, to the manufacturing processes used to create the product, to energy sources and how waste is handled can affect whether an item is viewed as sustainable or not.
A few sustainable materials to look for are biodegradable materials like bamboo and cork, post-consumer recycled materials like recycled paper and recycled aluminum, and organic and natural materials like wood and hemp.
A quick inspection will let you know what a product is made of, but it often requires more research to discover what’s actually happening in the factories and studios where they are produced. It’s always a good idea to look at a brand’s website to see what they say about the working conditions for their employees and the sustainability of their business practices. You’ll be looking for brands that pay their workers a living wage and mention using energy efficient machines, recycling, and practicing waste reduction like we do. If a brand’s website doesn’t say anything about how their products are made, consider that a red flag.
Another way to check the sustainability of a product on-the-go is to look at the packaging. Products that are B Corp, Fair Trade, or Energy Star certified will have their certifications easily visible. And because these designations are verified by an outside organization, you can be sure that products marked with them have sustainable practices.
2. How is it packaged?
Figuring out the sustainability of a product ideally includes looking at more than the product itself. It’s also important to consider the way that products are packaged and distributed to your home. For instance, a product might be sustainable but be packaged in a really wasteful way. 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 re-usable or post-consumer recycled materials. This means that the packaging is made out of something that has been diverted from landfills, not just made from raw materials that could be recycled in the future. Additionally, you can minimize plastic packaging by purchasing products that come in glass containers and offer refills or repurposing ideas.
Once a product is packaged, the way it makes its way to your home can also affect the planet. We’ve all heard about the importance of shopping locally, both to support your local economy and to reduce the carbon emissions of long-distance shipping. Just try to remember your reusable bag and look for opportunities to buy in bulk.
And when sustainable products aren’t available near you, 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 as public transportation for goods, which we love!)
A big factor in the sustainability of a product while it’s being shipped is its weight. That’s why some environmentalists recommend forgoing heavy liquid products for lightweight versions like shampoo bars and toothpaste tablets.
3. How long do sustainable products last?
One last thing to consider when picking sustainable products is how using them will impact the environment.
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, takeout containers you can keep using as tupperware instead of styrofoam containers.
You’ll also want to think about the resources a product consumes when you use it. When buying appliances, a good trick is to look for Energy Star certification so you’ll be sure to find an efficient one. For consumable items, like the toothpaste tablets, consider how much water you use getting them to foam up. If you’re using more water than before, it might be a more sustainable choice to stick to standard toothpaste.
Importantly, a sustainable home shouldn’t have harmful chemicals in it for any reason, but some products can produce them during use. That’s one reason why Prosperity Candle chooses natural, renewable waxes in our clean-burning candles that are better for your health and the environment.
When it seems you've reached the end of using a product, you don’t have to throw it away yet! Instead, you can continue to use and enjoy it by repurposing the item for a more sustainable home.
And if not, consider creating a circular economy in your community with clothing swaps and passing on children’s toys to other families. Not only are these projects good for the planet, they’re also fun and can help build stronger connections between you and your neighbors. Once a product’s life is truly over, like a mattress or couch, you can also look into how it can be disposed in an environmentally friendly way.
Hopefully now you’re a lot more familiar with what a sustainable product means, and you feel better equipped to go out and find ones that will fit into your sustainable home. We’re always looking for more ways to make our studio and lives more sustainable, so if you have any other tips or tricks for a sustainable home, let us know in the comments!