What does sustainable living mean in practice? How does the Sustainability Lab vet brands and products? We have look holistically and incorporate many factors into our decision-making, including:
- product ingredients: sourcing, manufacturing process, effect on human health, end of life
- business practices including renewable energy used during manufacturing
- does this product encourage sustainable behavior, such as reuse, or growing things?
See below for our sustainability protocols, which we update as we continue our research.
*We do not support single-use plastics in any form. We may sell products that have plastic components. We have made the decision to sell these products because we believe they are the most sustainable option currently available.Some plastics are better than others.
#5, polypropylene, is both actually recyclable and useful around the house, and is not known to mimic human hormones or leach into foods. So PP is commonly found in reusable items such as in water bottle caps, food container lids, etc. If we need a little plastic in our life, science tells us that PP is the one we should feel least bad about
#1, PETE, is what water bottles are made of (vomit, don’t use plastic water bottles unless you really have to!), and you’ve probably seen a lot of sneakers and other stuff made from recycled PETE. PETE also creates microplastics (see below on microplastics). While we currently don’t sell these products, we may in the future—there is some innovative stuff going on in this space.
Most other plastics we avoid! Here’s why (keep going if you don’t need a plastics 101):
- they are fossil fuels
- they basically don’t degrade
- they create microplastics (more below)
- some of them mimic human hormones and can mess with our bodies when they leached into our environment
*We are wary of microplasticsPVC, PETE, if it’s bad enough to have hormone mimicking properties, get this—they also shed little plastics in the environment that go into our waters and get eaten by plankton, which get eaten by small things, which get eaten by fish and shellfish, which we eat. It’s estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish.
Recent reports of Big Plastic trying to make Africa the dumping ground don't help their cause.
So for many every day items in our lives (and we’ll take out specialized products here, like medical devices, which have a longer road to sustainability), there’s no excuse for plastic. We don’t want to build a sustainable movement on making excuses for industries that don’t consider where their toxic products go once they can’t be used anymore. That should be their problem, not ours.
We may sell some products that contain microplastics, but we’ll always note it so if it’s a big problem for you, you’ll know to steer clear!
*We sell silicone productsSilicone is a plastic-like polymer that is a very common plastic-replacing material in the sustainability world. We sell various items made of silicone because they are long-lasting, they don’t break easily (compared to glass), and silicone is inert, meaning it won’t leach chemicals into your food like many plastics would.
Silicone starts with heating up naturally-occurring silica and extracting pure silicon, the element, from the furnace. It then is mixed with hydrocarbons to create siloxane monomers, which are then bonded together to create polymers.
Health agencies view silicone as nontoxic, safe, and largely inert. The higher the quality (food grade or medical grade), the more assurance there are no added chemicals that could leach into your food.
Silicone requires fossil fuels to heat it up to a high temperature, and the compound is somewhat of a hybrid rubber/plastic. We view silicone as very much a near-term solution, versus being a material of the future. But if we use our silicone products for its usable life, and we recycle it through specialty recycling programs, then there’s a lot to like about silicone.
*Talk to us about dyes and inksAs great as it is to use low-water-intensity fabrics, if you’re treating them with poisonous dyes that harm workers and despoil nature, then you’ve lost the battle.
*No animal byproducts (except for fabrics such as wool)
Yes, it’s sustainable to use all parts of an animal if you’re going to kill an animal. But we as a society consume far too much animal meat. According to Project Drawdown, reducing our consumption of meat is the single most important thing developed nations can do to solve the climate crisis.
We might consider selling things made of recycled or upcycled leather (which, for commodity leather, is a horribly toxic process to tan), but currently we don’t.
*No palm oil except for sustainably sourced, and even then, as little palm oil as possiblePalm oil is in more than half of all consumer packaged products in the US, and its production in tropical biomes is one of the largest drivers of rainforest deforestation. Rainforest soil holds about 45% of the planet’s terrestrial carbon, so deforestation driven by palm oil farming results in significant carbon emissions. In addition, palm oil farming directly threatens 193 critically endangered and vulnerable animal species, including the Sumatran elephant, Sumatran tiger, and orangutans. We don’t want to reward these deforestation practices by buying products made with palm oil. We will not sell such products.
*We are enthusiastic about other values such as local, woman-owned business, minority-owned business, certified-ethically-made or organic or non-GMO or GOTS or Environmental Working Group, but these designations are not the sole basis of our decisions.Where possible, we work with small businesses that are owned by women and BIPOC makers who are creating incredible products and providing creative solutions for a better planet and community. Many of our brand partners started their businesses as a labor of love because they could not find a satisfactory product on the market. We go through hundreds of mediocre brands to find these thoughtful entrepreneurs and amplify their work and mission.
We’ve found awesome products that are made in China, Europe, and beyond. Many cultures outside of the US integrate sustainable living practices. We want to be able to learn from best practices around the world, centuries-old or new. Many countries outside the US are also leaders in sustainable innovation and we want to share those with you. Yes, there are a lot of carbon emissions produced when shipped, but we’d rather you see the product for yourself, and use it in your own home, so that people get excited and want to see it made here. We’re all about exposure—finding the best sustainable products around the world and making it easy for you to buy them and grow demand locally so manufacturers closer to home will want to make them, too.
*Bioplastics made from corn are sometimes no better than just regular plasticsThis is true, we believe, in the case of shipping (see our shipping policy) and extends across many other product areas:
- single-use plastics: they’re not easily recyclable (#1, #2, #5) but they get into our recycling system and they contaminate everything else
- they don’t easily degrade: they aren’t home-compostable, so you and I can’t just throw it into our backyard compost. You’d need to live near an industrial composter to get the composting benefit
- there’s still a lot of actual plastic in them
- they’re often made from corn, which is a water hog, is usually produced via the industrial agriculture system (extremely harmful to the soil, the pollinators, and our economy, for corn is subsidized by the government to feed cows which we then eat as meat, which we eat a lot of because it’s artificially cheaper than it should be)
*Bar cosmetics and powder/bar cleaners save on water transport, but not always if you need to add chemicals to emulsify afterMany of the personal care products that are shipped thousands of miles to our homes—we’re often shipping products that are over 90% water. Lots of products don’t even need to be a liquid—before there was body wash, there was bar soap, and there still is bar soap. For other types of products, innovative companies are designing small, concentrated tablets that ship to you small—you add the water from your tap once it arrives. That is huge in reducing the weight of packages and overall lowering the volume of what goes through our supply chain, but beware the additives that may need to get added to these concentrates. Other companies have taken a different tack. Veles, for example, recognizes the problem of all-purpose cleaner having over 90% water content. But they have chosen to extract the water from food waste. We are open to all of these approaches and continue to watch the space with interest for new developments.