If something isn’t 100% sustainable, does that mean it’s not sustainable at all? I saw a post on social media recently denigrating a large high street chain for claiming sustainability on a product that had been produced using part-recycled product. ‘Green washing!’ it exclaimed. But does something need to be 100% sustainable to claim eco credentials? Are any consumer products 100% sustainable with current technology? Does this attitude demotivate both people and brands from trying to be more sustainable, if they can’t achieve complete sustainability?
When I launched Keep + Kind my aim was to showcase stylish sustainable products, perhaps not those traditionally associated with eco shops at the time. To offer colourful, fun, contemporary products, along with information on the suppliers’ sustainability criteria or efforts to improve sustainability within their business.
I quickly realised I was walking into a proverbial minefield and spent many hours while planning and purchasing agonising over which products to feature, what to pack and wrap purchases in, and whether or not everything was truly sustainable? I quickly realised for someone or something to be truly sustainable, they or it had to fit into what felt like an extreme set of criteria. The list of questions I asked myself seem endless: did they need to be absolutely zero waste? Should all products and their base materials be recycled or organic? Should they be able to be repurposed or recycled? Could any plastic be used in the product or the packaging? Do the products need to be made locally? What are the working conditions of the people making the products? Should the products always meet one, or more, of these categories? What was I trying to achieve? I tied myself up into knots, it was painful, I felt anxious and exhausted, I almost gave up on the whole idea. I wondered if I couldn’t offer complete 100% sustainability, should I even bother to launch the business? If I did launch, would the business itself be sustainable?
Finding a universally accepted definition of true sustainability was also difficult (if you know of one, I’m all eyes and ears, bring it on please!). The most cited definition I could find is specific to sustainable development, offered by the Brundtland Commission, and states:
“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
After a search around the depths of the Internet, I discovered it’s generally agreed there are three pillars: economic, social and environmental or, put another way, profits, people and planet. Sustainability, or to sustain, is about making better decisions today, both personally and within a business framework, to ensure we don’t jeopardise future generations’ ability to meet their needs: simply to protect finite resources for our children and grandchildren and to protect their quality of life.
During the discovery for suitable suppliers, I was really happy to find out that sustainability is front of mind and drive decisions for so many businesses, and that they were taking active steps to improve one or more areas within their businesses. In practice what does this look like? I’ve provided a couple of examples below:
- BAGGU use nylon for their reusable bags, but approximately half of this this nylon is recycled. Why isn’t the bag 100% recycled, well this is down to durability, simply put it wouldn’t last as long. BAGGU does have a goal of 100% recycled material and is waiting for the technology to catch up.
- Some of the skincare products I offer have plastic pumps or sprays on them to for users to decant the product, this means the correct amount of product is used each time and eliminates waste. However, these same companies use predominantly natural and organic materials, they are artisan products and the brands use recyclable glass bottles and jars with aluminium lids where practically possible – both of which are infinitely recyclable.
Because these companies are not 100% sustainable does that mean they shouldn’t claim sustainability?
Personally, I don’t think so. Brands are making massive efforts to improve and I believe we should celebrate this and encourage businesses improve manufacturing and processes that are sustainable and kinder to planet earth. In additional, I believe it’s important for long term economic sustainability that small and large businesses alike are prosperous to enable a fairer distribution of wealth and greater choice for the consumer.
For Keep + Kind, what this means when choosing brands to feature, is that I’ve reviewed what the supplier’s ethos is and holistically what they’re trying to achieve, and included brands that are actively sustainable, or working hard to improve sustainability in one or more areas of their business.
My overall learn from the research I’ve done and the process of starting Keep + Kind is that we are not perfect, and if we try to be perfect, we risk overwhelm and withdrawal – the belief that… ‘if I can’t do it all, I’m not going to try to do anything at all’. Sustainability should reflect progress over perfection. Pro tip - it’s about making small changes today to improve our environmental practices and continuing to build on these and incorporate new ideas and practices.
If you’re looking for easy ideas, incorporate using reusable bags for shopping, a reusable cup or bottle when out and about, buying seasonal fruit and vegetables and looking for shops that offer plastic free varieties, composting waste, fixing broken items and not upgrading your smart phone every year (did you know smart phones contain minerals which require mining, which can lead to deforestation?).
As is often quoted, we don’t need one person doing things perfectly, we need a million people doing things imperfectly.