Sustainable consumption means choosing products responsibly, with the environment in mind. Eco-friendly products have a lower impact on the environment throughout their life cycle, i.e., from the raw materials used in their manufacturing, to their design, transport to the end-user, their length of use and their capacity to be recycled.
There is no set standard in Europe of what makes an eco-friendly product, but here are some criteria which can help identify products that, though sometimes more expensive, are likely to be more sustainable and will save you money in the long run.
Eco-friendly products made using natural materials and ingredients are better than those manufactured using plastics and synthetic materials, and/or chemicals and dangerous substances.
Examples: toys made entirely of wood, clothes made of linen, hemp, wool, etc
In terms of agricultural production processes, an organic product guarantees a high level of biodiversity and environmental practices that preserve natural resources and animal welfare.
Important to know !
While natural products are best, miles matter. It doesn’t make much sense to buy something that is 100% natural if the product is shipped from the other side of the world, generating significant CO2 emissions to reach its buyer. Sometimes it is better to buy a recycled product locally.
A green product generates less CO2 emissions (the main greenhouse gas responsible for global warming) and/or less water and energy to manufacture.
Examples: solar cooker, solar oven.
Sometimes it is hard to tell which are the best products to buy, however. For example, cotton, widely used in clothes manufacturing, requires more water and fertiliser than flax or hemp.
A complex manufacturing process is almost always not energy efficient. Which is why some European manufacturers are moving towards ‘low-tech’ products that use less energy.
Sustainability is also measured in the length of time products are used before they reach the end of their life cycle and whether they can be re-used, repaired or repurposed.
Examples: rechargeable batteries, toothbrushes with replaceable heads, microfibre cloths.
Repairability is one of the most important features of a sustainable product. Single-use, short shelf-life products have created a throw-away culture that makes replacement easier and cheaper than repair. Built-in obsolescence in tech products is also a problem in our society.
If we are to make more climate-friendly products, repairability should be one of the main aims in design and manufacturing. A green product should be easy to repair, and spare parts for replacement should be easily available.
France is the first European country to impose a reparability index for household appliances and electronic products, with other categories to follow.
To reduce your climate footprint, it is best to buy furniture or appliances made and sold in France or Europe, or at least made from materials sourced in Europe. This is because transport is the second major factor in greenhouse gas emissions after energy and electricity use.
Product origin is not always clear. Some retailers use the French or European Union emblems on their websites but the products may come from further afar. Check the real origin of the products before clicking to buy or walk away if the information is unclear.
A fair-trade product is produced in a significantly shorter time and within a more transparent supply and trade chain, all of which allows small source producers to make a decent living from their work.
An ethical product takes into account the working conditions in which the product was designed and distributed.
Fair trade is not only about food, such as coffee and chocolate, but also about textiles, furniture, jewellery and decorative items for example.
Funded by the European Union. Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Innovation Council and Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Executive Agency (EISMEA). Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.