Below, we discuss sustainable products.
We outline what they are, list some examples of different products across different industries, list potential pros and cons, and more
What Are Sustainable Products?
Sustainable products are products that are sustainable in some way across their lifecycle.
Two key areas they might be sustainable is in contributing to sustainable resource management, or, minimising negative environmental impact in some way.
Other areas might involve social goals, such as improving the impact that a product has on public health and safety.
What Makes Some Products More Sustainable?
Some of the key ways products might be made more sustainable across the lifecycle of the product might be:
– Product design
Changing a product’s design can improve that product’s sustainability.
One example might be a house that is designed to be more energy efficient, with passive heating or cooling design features.
Another example might be a consumer product that is designed to be more sustainable in some way, like a tech. product (like a phone or laptop) that is designed to be modular to make it easier to repair, upgrade, or recycle. This might extend the product’s lifespan, or help manage it’s waste more sustainably.
A new product design may also involve incorporating newer more sustainable features into the product.
– Selection and sourcing of materials
Selecting more sustainable materials, and sourcing them in a more sustainable way, can both improve a product’s sustainability.
We’ve written more about sustainable materials, and sourcing of those materials in a separate guide.
– Manufacture of the product
Two ways a product might have a more sustainable manufacturing process might include:
Using cleaner energy during manufacturing (that might come from off-site, but also on-site sources)
Changing manufacturing processes to capture, treat, and re-use chemicals (which may reduce pollution, but, also use resources more sustainably)
– How the product is used or operated
The way a product is used/operated can impact sustainability.
For example, properly maintaining a vehicle may extend it’s lifespan (and impact it’s sustainability footprint)
Another example with a vehicle – driving the vehicle selectively, and walking and riding more instead of driving the vehicle (where practical), may help cut down on the amount of fuel (or power) that the vehicle uses over it’s lifespan.
The same might be said for products that use electricity around the house – turning them off when not in use can help save electricity.
– How a product is managed at the waste stage
There’s several ways a product’s sustainability can be impacted at the waste stage
For example, disposing of the product to the correct waste stream impacts sustainability. This might be the case for some metals and other materials have high recycling rates, and it might be sustainable to ensure certain materials in some products are recycled for the potential benefits they offer in doing so
As another example, some products (like jars, bottles, bags, etc.) might be able to be repurposed, and this may impact their sustainability.
*Sustainable business practices
Separate to the product itself directly being made more sustainable itself, it’s also possible that a business implementing more sustainable business practices might indirectly result in a product being more sustainable too.
Sustainable Product Examples (& Ideas)
Ultimately, many companies now are trying to implement sustainable practices into their business, or make their products or services more sustainable.
So, there may be many examples of sustainable products.
But, some specific examples of products that are sustainable in key ways, might include but aren’t limited to:
– Cleaner electricity
Such as electricity from renewables, or nuclear energy
– Alternative vehicles
Such as hybrid vehicles, electric vehicles, and hydrogen vehicles
– More sustainable buildings or homes
Such as buildings or homes with a more sustainable design, or that have certain sustainable features
– More sustainable appliances or devices
Such as energy efficient appliances and devices, or, water efficient appliances and devices
– More sustainable fibres and fabrics
Such as organic fibres, like organic cotton
Such as organically farmed food, like organic fruit and vegetables
– Reusable items
Such as reusable bottles, bags, straws, and so on
– Biodegradable items
– Compostable items
– Non-toxic items, and, items with a lower level of toxicity in the chemicals used in the product
Potential Pros & Cons Of Sustainable Products
Some of the potential pros and cons of sustainable products might be:
– May have some resource management benefits
Like for example products that use renewable resources, or, that aim to recycle/reuse materials over using virgin materials.
– May have some environmental benefits
Like for example products that minimise different types of pollution, such as air pollution, water pollution, and general waste pollution.
– May have some social benefits
Like for example products that are made to be less toxic, or less harmful to human health.
Or, products that have a safer design, and are less of a risk to human safety.
– May have some economic benefits
Like for example some cars that are cheaper to charge with electricity, compared to filling up a car with a petroleum based fuel (for a similar distance travelled)
Or, a more energy efficient system or device around the home that uses less electricity, and results in a lower power bill.
– May be sustainable in some ways, but not necessarily in others
For example, some products might be made to have a lower carbon footprint, but are not necessarily made to be more sustainable across other sustainability indicators.
– May sometimes be more expensive than regular products
Like for example some foods that are organically farmed, where the farming process is more costly than traditional farming for various reasons.
Or, some fibres used in textiles that are organically farmed or mechanically processed (instead of chemically processed), and the farming and production processes are more costly.
Other miscellaneous factors like sustainable certifications can add to the cost of sustainable products too.
These costs can be passed onto consumers.
– May sometimes have inferior performance or capability compared to regular products
For example, some alternative vehicles may have a shorter driving range on a full tank or battery compared to some traditional fuel vehicles.
As another example, some natural cleaning products may not clean as effectively as some regular cleaning products that contain different chemicals.
Are Sustainable Products More Expensive?
Some might be, and some might not be.
It might depend on factors like:
– The industry, type of product, and the individual product itself
For example, in the textile industry, organic cotton may be more costly than regular cotton in some instances.
Factors like the farming processes used, the labor used, certification programs, and other factors can contribute to the price of organic cotton and other organic fibres.
In some instances though, sustainable products may be cost neutral compared to regular products.
– The upfront cost/purchase price of the product vs the cost to own or operate the product
For example, some electric vehicles might be more costly on a like for like basis (type of vehicle, size, performance, etc.) compared to some internal combustion vehicles.
But, some electric vehicles (depending on the price of electricity in a city) might be cheaper to drive than some internal combustion vehicles (depending on the price of gasoline, type of vehicle, and so on)
Best Sustainable Products – Criteria, & What To Consider
There’s a range of things to consider when picking the ‘best’ sustainable products.
There might be general criteria to consider, but also different criteria to consider for individual types of products across different industries.
We may add more information to this section in the future, or, publish more information in some other way on this topic in the future.
1. Various ‘Better Meets Reality’ guides