Solar power, composting and recycling, buying organic produce, biking to work. You’ve likely seen “sustainable” options everywhere. From how we eat to how we sleep to how we commute, it sounds like “sustainable” is the latest craze taking over. But it’s more than just a trend. And its increasing presence in our products, our conversations and our lives marks an important shift. So what does it mean to be sustainable? And why should we even care?
The dictionary definition is perfectly descriptive: “able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.” Or, if you want to get more specific, “harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”
When it comes to production and consumption, “sustainable” permeates the entire supply chain, from the raw materials goods are made of, to the way they are manufactured, to the economies they fuel, to the way they are packaged, shipped, sold, and eventually disposed of.
Does each step of this process consider the availability and wise use of resources? Are products designed from materials that can be easily regenerated at low cost to the environment? Are the people making the products compensated in a way that allows them to support themselves and their futures? Are the products shipped to stores or consumers in a way that minimizes fossil fuel output? Are they then designed to last, so that we don’t throw them away as soon as we use them? Or, if not, are they designed of materials that we can repurpose?
These are all crucial questions to consider when we think about the word sustainable, especially when it comes to the way we make our own decisions about purchases and investments.
The bottom line about sustainability is that we live on a planet where resources are limited. With human consumption patterns, it may not feel that way, but it’s the truth -- the limits of production are finite.
The way we produce goods and products often sucks up massive amounts of energy and natural resources. And on the other side of that coin, the actual products coming from this environmentally harsh production process are typically lower quality, lasting only a few months or years or, worse, designed for one single use.
So while we have extremely finite resources, we’re using them inefficiently to create things that will essentially be thrown away immediately, demanding more resources to make more things that will also be thrown away immediately, and so on and so forth until...until what?
Take a plastic straw, for instance (you’ve probably heard a lot about these lately). We use it once, to finish a drink, and then toss it in the trash without much thought. But the entire lifecycle of a straw is one unsustainable decision after another. The plastic, for starters ,is made of raw materials created through chemical, thermal and fossil fuel energy -- resources dug out of the earth and burned, polluting the air and unable to reused. Once turned from chemicals into straws, they’re then packaged into paper boxes made by harvesting massive forests, and finally transported to be sold in the aisles of your convenience store through fossil-fuel emitting trucks or planes. We use the straw once, throw it away, and the process begins again and again and again.
So what can we do?
That’s where “sustainable” comes in. The more we can develop products, utilities, systems, materials -- you name it -- that are designed to last or be repurposed, created from sources that are renewable and produced in a way that doesn’t diminish resources, the more we protect our planet’s precious resources from depletion.
Wriggly Toes produces Organic Kids Bedding that is “sustainable,” and we mean it in every sense of the word. From supply chain to production, we create bedding with minimal environmental impact, with careful and efficient consumption of water and energy.
We also only release four designs at a time, allowing us to avoid the unsustainable trap of overproducing any one item. And what’s more, our bedding is made from 100 percent organic cotton. That means the raw materials we use are grown without the use of harmful pesticides, which poison soil and wash into waterways, polluting drinking water and killing wildlife.
We are both Oeko-Tex-certified and GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified. Oeko-Tex textiles and fabrics are certified free of harmful chemicals and are safe for human use, and GOTS certification affirms we only use organic textiles, whose raw materials are grown and harvested with no exposure to fertilisers and pesticides.
Our manufacturing process is also sustainable and socially responsible, with ethical labour used every step of the way. And as part of our business model, we also give a portion back to create positive change in our world. Part of the proceeds from the purchase of each set of our kids’ bedding is donated to the Australian Childhood Foundation, an organization that works to defend the right of all children to a safe and loved childhood.
That’s what a life cycle of sustainability looks like. From sourcing materials to manufacturing products to selling them, the environment is considered at every step of the process.
How do I know if a product is really “sustainable”?
Many products advertise being “sustainable,” and “all-natural,” but the truth is, there are not hard and fast guidelines regulating these claims. That’s why it’s important to check for third-party verification. Sustainability standards and certifications are voluntary, usually third-party-assessed, norms and standards relating to environmental, social, ethical and food safety issues. Many companies employ these standards to showcase their own, responsible practices, and such standards help consumers like you make informed decisions about the companies and practices you support.
There are over 400 such standards across the world. In additional to GOTS and Oeko-Tex mentioned earlier, here are some to keep an eye out for:
- Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane Raised and Handled: For meat and dairy products, these two certifications ensure the farm animals were raised to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards.
- Cradle to Cradle Certified: C2C can be found on building materials, carpeting, textiles, packaging, cleaning products, furniture, clothing and more, and ensures these products were produced ethically and sustainably
- Design for the Environment: Found on laundry products, household cleaners, floor care products and more, this certification used Environmental Protection Agency standards to ensure they contain safe, non harmful chemicals
- Energy Star: Used for household appliances, Energy Star certifies your purchase is energy efficient and will not waste energy.
- Rainforest Alliance Certified/Verified: For coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit juice, wood and paper products and personal care products, the Rainforest Alliance certification ensures products are produced in a way that protects valuable resources and safeguards employee rights.
What steps can I take to be more sustainable?
The best thing you can do as a consumer is think before you buy. That means asking yourself, do I really need this or can I fix what I already have? That means asking yourself, what’s this product made of and how did it get here? That means asking yourself, is there an alternative that might have less of an impact on the environment?
The more we can each take a few minutes to think -- especially in a world that’s moving at a constant, breakneck speed -- the better and more intentional decisions we can make, for ourselves, our planet and our families.
Here are some things to consider before you purchase a product:
- How did this product get here? Did it have to travel far distances?
- What is this product made of? Is the material itself sustainable?
- Can the product be reused or recycled?
- Can it be composted?
- Do I need it? Can I make it myself?
- Is this a single use product, and if so, is there an alternative that will last longer?
- What is it packaged in? Is it wasting packaging materials?
- If buying online, can I instead purchase in a store to reduce shipping pollution and wasteful packaging?
- Can I purchase the product in bulk to avoid extra packaging?
- Am I purchasing from a reputable company? Do they have a sustainable purpose or mission statement?
- Does this company give back to their community.
- Does this product contain harmful chemicals? Are the ingredients organic?
And that’s just when it comes to shopping. You can be sustainable in other ways, too! Here are some tips on decreasing your environmental impact and living a sustainable lifestyle”:
- Cut back on the car. Are you able to bike, walk or take public transportation? These options are far better for the environment. Did you know that if just five percent of New York City residents who commute by car or taxi switched to riding bikes, they would save 75,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year? That’s roughly equivalent to planting 30 square miles of forest!
- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Sure, that means properly disposing of your aluminum and your paper and your plastic so that it can be reused. But it also means applying that mindset to the rest of your consumption. Try fixing things when they break, or repurposing things you do buy. Check out a second-hand thrift shop for your shopping needs, and sell or donate old clothes and belongings, instead of throwing them away.
- Start a garden! Try growing your own spices, herbs and seasonal produce! Most of what we buy in the grocery store is shipped from far corners of the world, creating tons of fossil fuel emissions in transit. Plus, many are grown with harmful pesticides that pollute drinking water.
- Be mindful. Start to bring awareness to what you’re consuming and what you’re throwing away. Try making a list of what you throw away for a whole day, and then think about where you might be able to cut back.
- Get your friends and family involved. One person won’t make a huge difference, but our power lies in what we can accomplish collectively. Imagine if all of your loved ones took these same steps, and then all of their loved ones followed suit and so on and so forth. We’d have a movement! Start conversations with your social circle about sustainability and see where it goes!
Why does it matter, anyway?
The world is changing rapidly, and the planet can’t keep up with our growing appetite for consumption. If we want to keep this earth a safe and healthy planet for our children, and their children, and their children, we need to think about sustainability in all aspects of our lives. It’s never too late to get started, so we’re glad you’`re here!