“Using environmentally damaging and dangerous materials is very profitable for a business. You can generally make functional and good-looking products cheaply by using them, but at great cost to both the environment and the factory workers that handle these chemicals. That’s why manufacturers will often hide their ingredients and materials lists in the name of “trade secrets”, says Jarrad Brownlee & Evelyn Leonard, Sustainability Ambassadors at Humanscale
If every company that claimed to be “eco friendly” was truly sustainable, then we wouldn’t be in the great big mess that we’re currently in now. One of the biggest problems in our battle against climate change is ‘Greenwashing’.
Greenwashing: where companies spend more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing rather than implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact. To help you distinguish between PR Fluff and real action with tangible results, we’ve come up with a handy list of 8 things to look in a truly environmentally friendly company.
- COMPANY DISCLOSURE
A good place to start is by looking at their yearly CSR report. Listed companies are legally required to provide CSR reports, but if the company is not listed yet still goes to the lengths to produce one, this is a great sign of a company that really cares about its own environmental impact. Figures showing year on year energy reductions and improvement on its carbon footprint are promising, but even better would be a CSR report which stipulates how exactly this energy reduction is calculated and the measures they have taken to do so. Companies who have invested back into their environmental initiatives by purchasing solar panels, wind power generators and other sources of renewable energy are going the extra mile!
As savvy consumers it is best to check whether their claims of energy and carbon footprint reductions are verified by a third party – that way we know that we can trust the data given in the CSR report.
The person at the top of the company will always influence the company culture and its general attitude towards the environment. If the leader or team at the top has a measurable track record of investing time and money into environmental and wildlife initiatives, then you can be more confident that their influence will trickle down into the rest of their business practices.
- CORPORATE DNA
It is also important to look for a dedicated team of sustainability personnel – from the design team, to the sales team, all the way up to the board of directors – there should be people at every level who can provide bottom up thinking as to how to improve on sustainability initiatives through all stages of the business.
- ALREADY RECYCLED NOT JUST RECYCLABLE MATERIALS
Making products from recyclable materials is easy, and it’s not much of an additional cost for companies if at all. Many businesses may even boast about the fact that their products are recyclable – but this unfairly puts the burden of recycling back onto the consumer. Often there are so many different components that need to be separated out in order to recycle the product effectively, so it becomes too time consuming and complex for even the most discerning customer to bother. Keep a look out for companies that are taking back the responsibility by using already recycled materials as part of their products. This shows a real commitment to the environment as it is generally more costly and complicated to use already recycled rather than virgin materials during production.
Remember, “Eco-Friendly” or “Recyclable” doesn’t hold as much weight as “Made 100% from Ocean Plastic” or “Made with 100% recycled Aluminium”.
- RED LIST FREE
If it’s a manufacturing company you are looking at, check if the company discloses the materials they use for manufacture. If they offer Declare or HDP labels that generally means a very high level of transparency regarding their ingredients lists.
This matters because using environmentally damaging and dangerous materials is very profitable for a business. You can generally make functional and good-looking products cheaply by using them, but at great cost to both the environment and the factory workers that handle these chemicals. That’s why manufacturers will often hide their ingredients and materials lists in the name of “trade secrets”. Take for example Chrome VI and formaldehyde – two materials and chemicals that are extremely prevalent in the furniture industry – chrome gives metal products that unmistakable shine and formaldehyde helps to bond composite wood boards used in tabletops and cabinetry. Both these materials are extremely toxic not only to the environment but can also cause huge damage to the worker’s health.
The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) published a long list of dangerous chemicals called the ‘Red List’. Companies who don’t use these kinds of toxic materials will often be very proud of it, so make sure you ask them if they are ‘Red List Free’ next time you want to buy a truly green product.
- CORPORATE AFFILIATIONS
Corporate affiliations with non profit companies such as the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) validates the transparency of that businesses’ approach to sustainability as it can serve as an external check.
Links with companies whose main mission is environmental is also a good indicator. For example, companies that claim to use post-consumer recycled materials are usually affiliated with companies that help them achieve these goals. Bureo is a classic example of a company whose whole ethos is based on collecting harmful ocean plastic and transforming it into materials that can be used for manufacture. Keep your eyes peeled for companies like Bureo in the supply chain!
- PRODUCT LIFE TIME/LONG WARRANTIES
“No amount of recycling will equal using less in the first place” – Neils Diffrient
One of our biggest challenges to improving the environment is how fast we consume things and how much our appetite for shiny new products has increased over the years. For example, the fashion industry has gone from having two collections to six collections yearly. This creates mountains of waste which are often exported to poorer countries to dispose of or incinerate. Similarly, the trend in the office fit-out industry is to purchase all new furniture every time the office is refurbished, and with more and more companies updating their offices in order to attract a young and energetic workforce this means millions of chairs and desks going into landfill every year.
Look for companies that encourage you to use the products you purchase from them for a long time – long warranties are a fantastic indicator of this. Warranties between 5-15 years show a commitment by the manufacturer to produce long lasting, high quality products that are meant to stand the test of time and can come with you wherever your office may move to next or whenever you refurbish.
No matter how good the quality of a product is, if it is used everyday, it will inevitably go through a fair amount of wear and tear. Companies that manufacture products with easily replaceable high wear parts – such as replaceable arm pads, seat cushion or backrest demonstrate a genuine care for the life cycle of the product. Having to only replace parts when it is needed encourages the customer to use the chair for as long as possible.
- AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
Companies that have gone the extra mile to fulfilling their sustainability goals will often have external recognition through various awards. The SEAL (Sustainability, Environmental Achievement & Leadership) Award is a great place to start. This award recognises the environmental achievements and leadership of companies that have greatly exceeded the industry standards. If you’re looking for a sustainable company to lend your support to or purchase from, taking your pick from the list of those honoured with this award is a sure-fire way of making sure your support goes to the companies that are more action than talk!