Making the right choice is based on any number of factors that can make one thing more sustainable than another. The checklist on this page will help you in your decision-making.

Making the right choice

A sustainability checklist

Sustainable goods will have all of the following basic characteristics:

Material efficiency

A more sustainable product will have less material intensity than a less sustainable product. This may be achieved through better design, substitution of materials with better properties, or better production processes. This also includes product packaging.

Low embodied energy (low carbon footprint)

The energy intensity of any type of product includes the energy used in the sourcing of raw materials, in the production process and in distribution.

High service intensity (how effective the goods are)

This is talking about the effectiveness of a product – how well it does its job.

Non-toxicity

A toxic substance means any chemical or mixture that may be harmful to the environment and to human health if inhaled, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. The toxic substances contained in most everyday household products are synthetic and are therefore less likely to be biodegradable, so they build up in the environment. Some toxic substances occur naturally – like heavy metals – but human activities have created dangerous levels of them in the environment.

Many of the products you find in your home may contain toxic substances. These products include: drain cleaners; oven cleaners; laundry detergents; floor or furniture polish; paints; pesticides and the fire-retardants applied to many fabrics and carpets.

Products should be made from substances that are either natural or are otherwise biodegradable and do not bio-accumulate.

Recyclability

In most cases much less energy is used to recycle, it creates less waste and mitigates the need for extraction of raw materials.

Maximum renewable content

The less material we extract from the earth’s crust the better. Materials that come from renewable sources (e.g. plants) are sustainable.

Durability and quality

The longer a product lasts the better. Disposable and bad quality products should be avoided! This obviously applies to manufactured goods. Studies have shown that in the US only 1% of the materials that are used to manufacture products are still in useful products after six months. The other 99% is essentially waste (which may be, but probably isn’t, recycled). The study shows that the bulk of the material used (94%) is wasted in the production process. However that still means that of the remaining 6%, that goes into the finished products, over 83% of it is trashed within the first 6 months.

Cast iron cookware