Many times we look for indicators on a product that will tell us more about the actual value of a product. Beyond the price tag there are several layers of value. The economic value doesn’t reflect the true cost of a product (if it did they would be a lot more expensive).
Stuff is made cheap at the expense of natural resources or other people and it’s difficult to see these externalities in a label. But, there are a few things you can look for to give you a better idea of what kind of company you are supporting with your wallet.
Here are a few…
Where is it from?
This will give you a real quick but broad insight into the potential environmental and social impact of a product. The further away it was made from where you are buying it, the bigger its footprint is due to the shipping (but there are a lot of other factors involved). As a rule of thumb, shopping local when you have the choice is the way to go.
Local products are also much less likely to have been produced under unfair labor practices which are generally worse in developing countries. The International Trade Union Confederation released a report on the worst countries for workers.
Here are the top 10 worst (alphabetical):
- Saudi Arabia
- United Arab Emirates
Access the full ITUC study here and their Global Rights Index Map here.
On most products, whether it’s food, clothes, or tech gadgets, you should be able to find a “made in x”, “product of x”, or “manufactured in x” label somewhere. This labeling is required by law for almost all products. If you want to dive deeper into the Tariff Act of 1930 (amended 19 USC 1304) and the 2002 Farm Bill which set country of origin (COO) standards for products in the US, Wikipedia is a great starting point.
Who is selling it?
Some brands have better reputations than others… One of the safer ways to shop is to purchase from brands you know are responsible. Most companies claim they are saving the world in one way or another through their marketing so you can’t always take their product labels or website about pages for face value.
A good way to get an objective rating on a company is from a third party. CSRHub is one of the most extensive rating services available, providing corporate social responsibility data on the majority of big corporations. They look at factors such as the company’s environmental impact, how they treat their employees, and what they do for the community. Here you can get a pretty quick idea for how a company stands. Here are some that stand out in the textile industry:
|High(er) Rating||Low Rating|
|Levi Strauss & Co||Polo Ralph Lauren|
|Laura Ashley Holdings||Urban Outfitters|
CSRHub Ratings for Textiles & Apparel Industry
How long will this last?
Basically, you want to assess how long the lifespan of this product is. If it looks and feels like a quality made product that will last you a long time 👍. Unfortunately, most products are made to be disposable. They break easily and then you’re forced to buy another, as the garbage dump continues to fill up 👎.
Give yourself a few extra seconds to assess your product before you buy it. No rush! If you’re buying clothes look at the stitching, feel the material. If you’re buying a tech gadget really look at it. Is it made of cheap plastic? How does it feel? Trust your gut on this one and don’t feel rushed. If you’re buying online it’s worth it to read a few reviews to see what others have experienced.
Do I really need this?
The impulse buy – nothing invokes buyer’s remorse quicker.
Catch yourself when you’re in the zone. Watch out for fire sales! Red tags can be attractive, but who cares if you saved 50% on something you don’t need.
If you feel even the slightest indecision about whether you truly need a product, just take another lap around the store (or your house if you’re shopping online). This will help pull you out of the marketing vortex you may have been sucked into so you can look at the product in question through a clearer lens.
Sometimes when we are in a rush or we get caught up in a fire sale our best intentions get thrown out the window. The biggest help is to know when you’re doing it and catch yourself. If you get into the habit of looking for a few key signs at the point of purchase they will lead you to being a much smarter shopper and a sustainable citizen.
Contribute your tips and advice in the comments sections!
If you’d like to get the occasional update from prch so you can stay informed and get tips about conscious consumerism, join the club: