These days it seems like everyone and their veterinarian has an ethical product company. We are bombarded with new Kickstarter campaigns for the latest organic hamster shawls or Made in the USA artisanal chamber pots. If the Internet was real life, every time we went outside we’d be surrounded by a swarm of suspendered newsies shouting “Eco-friendly! Get ya eco-friendly here!” “Fair Trade for your old maid!” “100% ethical or your money back!”
It’s at once parody á la Portlandia and a genuine sign of the times: we, the children of globalization and overinflated self-esteems, decided we would be the ones to finally stop sweatshops after hundreds of years, and then preach the gospel of conscious consumerism from the mountaintops. We might not be doing it perfectly right, but it’s definitely progress in the right direction.
But as the market for ethically produced and sustainable goods continues to grow, the number of posers, phonies and fakers will grow too.
Back when there weren’t a lot of suitors, we didn’t have the luxury of being choosy. But just like the girl that grew gigantic knockers over summer vacation, now every brand at school wants to take us to prom. And with all the newfound attention, we’d better raise our standards and get smarter about their promises of sustainably ever after. We’ll never know exactly what is happening behind a factory’s closed doors, but we can be more savvy about who we trust with our support. The goal of this article is to give you some tools to tell the fake from the real, the snake oil from the Dr. Bronner’s.
Note: I use a handful of real companies as examples in this article. I am not categorizing some some as saints and others as evil, no business is perfect. However, I do think that some brands have more work to do than others to live up to their marketing. And as consumers, we need to stop being afraid of criticizing “ethical” companies just because they mean well. Let’s all do better so that the real changemakers can rise to the top. I welcome any feedback, disagreement, questions, etc. Leave a note!