Though it may sometimes seem insignificant, every consumer choice we make has an impact on the environment. But do we really grasp how much power we wield as responsible consumers? How do we define a responsible purchase? What criteria should be considered? Our purchasing behaviour is a sign of our citizen engagement and can even influence manufacturers, retailers and decision-makers. That’s why it’s so important to take the time to question our consumer habits and get our priorities straight!
A few criteria
When faced with a potential purchase, the first question you should ask yourself is: Is this purchase really necessary? Responsible consumerism is based on striking a balance between the 4 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle and recover. If the answer to the question is yes, then you need to evaluate the different purchasing criteria and go with the ones that are most important to you. Is the product organic, fair trade, local or recycled? Or does it meet other criteria?
With so many certifications to keep track of, how do you make sense of it all? We have attempted to list the most recognized ones here. Be wary of “homemade” certifications created by companies. While many companies do establish environmental standards and commit to following them, others just use them as part of their marketing strategies; this is known as greenwashing. Having a product evaluated by an independent third party rather than the company itself is always more objective.
Organic products differ from other products by their methods of production, which are better for the environment and human health and must comply with the standards of organic agriculture. In Quebec, these standards are governed by the Conseil des appellations réservées et des termes valorisants (CARTV).
Here are the main organic certifications recognized in Quebec:
The term fair trade means that the product was created under conditions that are fair and ethical for producers and workers. Unlike organic certification, the term fair trade is not controlled. Although there are no laws governing the use of the term, the product is still verified by an independent third party.
Here are the main fair trade labels:
To learn more about fair trade products, I recommend that you read L’éthique derrière l’étiquette (in French), which is published by Équiterre.
As the name suggests, these are products that were produced locally and had to be transported over much shorter distances than most imported products (e.g., Aliments du Québec).
Buying products made with recycled materials is also a form of responsible consumption, although there are few official certifications for these products.
– The FSC Recycled label indicates that the product is made from 100% recycled fibre.
– UL recognizes paper products made from a minimum of 50% recycled materials or agricultural fibre residue (e.g. corn). It also certifies products made of 30% vigin fibres originating from certified forests. In addition to controlling the composition of products, UL evaluates the environmantal performance of each plant and the list of chemicals used
– Green Seal: This certification is used only for products that are 100% recycled. The organization also evaluates the environmental performance of each plant and the list of chemicals used. It also prohibits the use of chlorine in the bleaching process.
Otherwise, the Möbius strip logo with the three arrows is a good indicator of recycled content or product recyclability. It’s been the universal identifying mark of recyclable materials since 1970. If the Möbius strip is dark on a pale background, it means that the product or packaging is recyclable. However, there’s no guarantee that the product in question will be accepted at your local recycling plant—you’ll have to check with your municipality. Conversely, if the symbol is light on a dark background, it means the product has recycled content, the percentage of which is usually written below the logo. Finally, it’s worth noting that the Möbius strip logo is not controlled by any recognized authority.
There are other initiatives worth mentioning that encourage responsible consumption: local farmers’ organic food baskets (community-supported agriculture), collaborative consumption, purchasing energy-efficient products, etc.
Other recognized certifications:
FSC: Guarantees sound forest management
Green-e: Renewable energy and carbon footprint
What criteria should you choose? There’s no one perfect choice—you just need to decide which ones matter the most to you! They can also vary depending on the type of purchase. For example, you may choose to prioritize fair trade coffee, organic food and Quebec-made clothing!
To learn more about product certifications, check out our previous post Environmental Certification: The Complex World of Responsible Purchasing.
Do you think of yourself as a responsible consumer? What criteria do you use to make purchasing decisions? Organic, fair trade, local, recycled… tell us about it!