In today’s technology biased world, people readily search the internet from home, from work, or on the go from their cell phone for answers to all of life’s questions. But do you question the backstory of the answers you find before making a buying decision? 

It feels great to make the healthy decision to pick fresh fruit for a snack. But do you know if the fruit you select is grown and transported locally, from another state, or another country?

Do you select bottled water simply on cost; or do you pay any attention to where it was bottled, how much packaging surrounds the bottles or if the bottle itself has been light weighted to use less plastic? 

Considering there are no mandated sustainability labels for products and services today, what should you question and what should you look for when you do your sustainable homework to check out a business? If you are checking out the sustainability practices of a business from their corporate web-site, look for these major components:

      • Transparency
      • Materiality
      • Reporting
      • Innovation

Transparency: Businesses that wish to be sustainable make a serious commitment to choices that impact more factors than just profit. They commit to noble actions to protect future generations. Companies that want to prove their sustainability commit to being “transparent” in their business actions. This doesn’t mean that private companies have to disclose detailed financials or that any business would openly share trade secrets or intellectual property. It does mean they will publically share their goals and actions (positive and negative) that relate to their impact on our earth.

Materiality: When a business decides it is time to publically talk about their sustainability efforts, they have many decisions to make. But all of those decisions should come back to “material” (physical, relevant) business impacts. For example, a business that manufactures a car is responsible for the complete life cycle of their product from raw material to end of life destruction. All of the impacts to employees and land from the physical manufacture of each part and the assembly of the car, to the impacts of emissions from fossil fuels needed to operate the vehicle and safety of passengers are included in that life cycle and should be addressed by the business in their sustainability efforts.

Reporting:  There are no laws that require businesses to report their sustainability efforts. And there are hundreds of voluntary programs a business can choose – or completely do their own thing (even it that is nothing). The most popular are the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). The impetus to start reporting is to satisfy the consumers who may spend their money on your product or service and the financial investment community (including stockholders) that may well help a business to expand and grow. Reporting needs to be timely, include a baseline for comparing current activities, include improvement goals and share the positive and negative aspects of their most recent efforts.

Innovation: Some consumers wait for new technologies to become mainstream and comparably priced to its predecessor before buying something new. But, aren’t we all impressed with those technology companies that are always on the cutting edge? Who are the companies that are on the cutting edge with new green products or improved products? Have you paid any attention to the changes in laundry detergent – that could be a blog of its own! How do you pick the right light bulb, dishwasher, or thermostat? As with buying a hybrid or electric car, you need to compare way more than the sticker price in your decision process.