Material Monday: How can I choose sustainable products?

Material Monday: How can I choose sustainable products?

Posted Last Tuesday by Katie Kubrak

Sustainable living has been a highlight in popular culture for the past few years. As a result, consumer appetites and ‘sustainable’ product propositions are not slowing down. With this in mind, how can we sieve through the abundance of options and choose the one that is most sustainable for the planet?

It all starts with consumer behaviour change through adopting an informed sustainable selection process. However, to ensure this, the following needs to happen:


1. Understanding of Key Elements

Sustainability means different things to each individual. But, overall, it is the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level, while (a) avoiding the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance and (b) avoiding any abuse of involved environment, workforce and community.

With this in mind, a consumer can judge sustainability of a product by the following key elements:

  • recycled content
  • mono-materiality
  • plastic-free composition
  • material production in compliance with global standards for sustainability
  • designed end of life scenario, e.g. recyclable, biodegradable, compostable
  • support of local manufacturing and local communities
  • neutral carbon emissions / carbon footprint offset
  • relevant certifications
  • transparent supply chain / manufacturing
  • renewable energy sources, e.g. solar energy, wind power
  • employee equality
  • sustainable use of water, energy and other resources etc.


2. Education

Further to the above, each customer can adopt a meaningful behaviour change through education. Understanding of the basics of the sustainable terminology, connected to the elements listed above, can ensure a consumer will not be green-washed by misleading marketing campaigns.

(As it’s been heart-breaking for us to see the misuse of terminology by some brands and suppliers, we wrote an education piece on this topic for designers. You can read more here, and should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to comment below.)


3. Research and Decision

Once equipped with a comprehensive understanding of the key elements and being educated on their meaning, a consumer can start by browsing through the readily available market options.

Quite often the above will require a bit of research on the brand of interest. We can recommend that a good place to find all relevant information usually includes the brand’s end of the year reports. These documents will regularly discuss impacts across CSR, manufacturing, sustainability and set targets for the year ahead.


We hope that this article on sustainable selection process will be of use to you both as a designer and consumer. Please do let us know your thoughts in comments below or get in touch with us direct via email.