Making ethical and sustainable choices can make a big difference to the planet. Here’s how to know what to look for…
What does ‘sustainable’ really mean?
“We usually call something ‘sustainable’ if it can be maintained and not deplete the natural resource,” explains the brains behind sustainable living project The New Joneses, Tamara DiMattina.
“But even better are companies that don’t just look at ‘sustaining’ or replacing what they’ve taken in the form of natural resources, but add to our ecological balance, by making things better through their good business practices.”
Why should we buy ethical products?
“In choosing to buy products with ethical or sustainable features, you support systems that consider, and often prioritise, the care of people, animals and the environment,” explains project coordinator at Shop Ethical!, Nick Ray.
“Your dollar is like a vote. Where you spend it sends a signal to the retailer and manufacturer that this issue is important. This increases the demand for these products. Thinking about our values when we shop is really important.”
Sustainable furniture such as Bedtime's Woody cots are not only beautiful but are also built from genuine reclaimed timber that's been recycled from old buildings.
What to look for in sustainable products
“It's good to be able to differentiate between a company’s own claims and those verified by independent third parties,” says DiMattina. “If a product has a reputable third party endorsing it – such as Fairtrade or NASAA Certified Organic – then that’s a good sign.”
“'FSC certification' on wood products gives assurance that it’s made with, or contains, wood that comes from Forest Stewardship Council certified forests or from post-consumer waste,” says Ray. “There is an internationally recognised system behind this logo with a clear standard for responsible forest management.”
“Plan Toys uses FSC wood and FSC rubber. Other certifications, though valuable, are more industry driven, such as the Australian Forestry Standard (AFS).” He adds: “Our shop, Ethical Guide looks at common brands, the companies behind these brands and their track record in regards to ethics and sustainability.”
Why ethical shopping still means quality
You might think that choosing sustainable or ethically made products means choosing cheap things that don’t look good, but it’s actually the opposite. “Buying quality products that will last longer is a positive choice,” says Ray. DiMattina agrees: “Sustainable shopping is about buying the best quality we can; stuff that’s built to last, things that we will use and use.”
Myer Market's artisan brands such as Global Sisters support fair trade practices by creating opportunities for women to gain financial independence. Incredible handcrafted products such as Sister Huong's cushion covers shows that buying ethically is a positive choice.
What to avoid when shopping sustainably
“Vague claims such as ‘natural’ or ‘environmentally friendly’ aren’t very useful,” says Ray. “Look for specific terms such as ‘made from 100% post-consumer-waste recycled paper’ or ‘tuna caught by pole and line’.”
What else to remember for sustainability
A company can be sustainable and ethical in many ways other than the product it sells. “There are plenty of ways all of us can have a positive impact,” says DiMattina. “This can be done through workplace equal opportunities, creating a workplace or community where people thrive and through responsible procurement of suppliers.”
“We encourage companies to look at all areas of their operations and ask themselves what they value, where are they making a significant impact, and then implement an action plan,” says Ray. “It's often simple things like using recycled toilet paper in the staff bathroom that has a flow-on effect! You'd be surprised at the small things that can change the culture of an organisation.”
It's often simple things that can have a big ethical impact, like Michelle Carslund's cute wall art which is printed on sustainable stone paper with natural colours - an eco-friendly alternative to regular paper.
Change the world and shop sustainably with these unique local brands...
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