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What Is a Sustainable Product? The Complete Guide

A sustainable product is a good that doesn't deplete resources while offering environmental, social, and economic benefits throughout its life cycle. 

Being mindful of your choices and adopting a sustainable lifestyle positively affects the consumption of natural resources and influences the ability of future generations to thrive on this planet. Some companies, however, misuse words like “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” for marketing hype, greenwashing products, and confusing consumers. 

Our guide will answer the question, “What are sustainable products?” and help consumers understand what to look for while shopping.

What It Means To Be Sustainable

Sustainability means our actions today positively affect resources for future generations. There are three pillars of sustainability: 

  • Environmental: Maintaining ecological balance by consuming natural resources at a rate where they can be replenished
  • Economic: Supporting long-term economic growth without negatively impacting humans or the environment
  • Social: Building healthy communities and promoting well-being by understanding basic necessities and promoting human rights 

Simply put, understanding how people are making products more sustainable helps you shop easier and feel great about what you’re buying. 

What Makes a Product Sustainable?

Illustration image of sustainable products

A product is sustainable if it’s produced and consumed in a manner that doesn’t hurt the environment. These three characteristics define what makes a product sustainable:

  • Product Life Cycle Sustainability
  • Ecological and Social Impact
  • Positive Contribution

The average shopper might not understand what makes a product sustainable. Picture this: You’re at your local grocery store, browsing a sea of products and brands. You see an aisle marked with a green leaf icon, so every product in the aisle must be sustainable, right? 

Not necessarily. You might be on the right track, but using these characteristics of product sustainability can more easily help you home in on what to pick.

Life Cycle Sustainability 

A product’s life cycle sustainability is determined by its total impact on the environment throughout its entire lifespan. To find if a product meets this standard, research the brand to see if they practice these production methods:

  • Raw material collection: The materials sourced are renewable and collected sustainably. This includes materials used for the packaging.
  • Manufacturing: The company’s production conserves energy and natural resources.
  • Distribution: The company uses distribution methods that result in a low ecological and carbon footprint. The methods must be followed throughout the storage, transportation, and delivery process. 
  • Product usage: The product doesn’t use non-renewable resources (e.g., plastic), release pollutants, or otherwise harm the environment throughout its life cycle. 
  • Disposal: The product can be recycled, reused, repurposed, or composted and does not pollute the environment.

Ecological and Social Impact 

To be sustainable, the brand must also have a positive ecological and social impact throughout the life cycle of the product. This includes fair worker treatment and compensation, and the distribution of revenues and profits must maintain integrity. Though The Real Dill prides itself on creative pickle recipes, its innovation of paying its lowest-earning workers more than 12% over the living wage makes a tremendous impact. 

Positive Contribution

Ask yourself, does the brand dedicate resources to helping communities thrive, participate in fair trade, and have a lasting, positive impact on Earth? For example, to provide healthy, organic food and clean water to low-income families, Numi Organic Tea runs a nonprofit organization called the Numi Foundation. Making considerate decisions like Numi can help sustainably grow and develop the planet and humanity.     

How to Spot a Sustainable Product

Many shoppers  want to live a sustainable lifestyle but they don’t know what they’re looking for in a brand or product. This helpful list featuring five ways to shop sustainably can give consumers an understanding of how to spot a sustainable product online or at the grocery store.

1. Research Where and How the Product Is Sourced

Research where your food is sourced and the methods of manufacturing. Most sustainable companies will have this information listed on their packaging or their website. 

Here are a few things to look for:

  • When buying seafood, make sure the fish are wild-caught with low bycatch rates. Many brands will even list where the fish were caught.
  • When buying meat, make sure the livestock was raised and treated fairly, instead of factory-farmed. Look for farms that practice free-range, pasture-based farming with a natural diet of healthy ingredients.  
  • Avoid produce sourced from farms that use pesticides or other harmful chemicals. Produce is now starting to use “pesticide-free” labels, which are one step above USDA Organic stickers.

2. Look for Brand Transparency

Seek out brands that are transparent about their sustainability practices and behavior, and display detailed ingredients on their labels so you know exactly what you’re putting in your body. Brand transparency helps build customer loyalty and long-lasting relationships through trust. 

Brands like Defunkify make shopping easier for consumers because of their dedication to transparency on their labels. Consumers know exactly what’s in their products, where they came from, and what the environmental impact is from the product they're buying.   

3. Understand Labels and Certifications

Understanding labels and certifications is important when it comes to shopping sustainably. Here are a few labels to look for to make sure the products you’re getting are truly offering sustainable benefits:

  • USDA Organic: USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives.
  • Fair Trade Certified: With this label, you can feel comfortable knowing the producer provides fair compensation and working conditions to their employees.
  • Demeter Certified: This label is on products that meet the Demeter Farm Standard of organically farmed, GMO-free foods. They promote good treatment of animals, soil fertility, and water conservation. 

4. Check for Sustainable Packaging

Learning how to recognize sustainable packaging is essential in curbing your impact on the environment. 

  • Avoid plastic packaging as it usually can’t be recycled and sometimes contains harmful resins and chemicals. 
  • Home compostable packaging or products with no packaging eliminate waste completely. Look for home compostable certifications like OK Home Compostable
  • Recyclable packaging is widely recyclable or will allow you to repurpose the material and keep it out of landfills.

5. Does the Brand “Do Good”?

Does the brand make an effort to do something to help the environment or humanity rather than focusing strictly on profits? Research the company and see if they donate to nonprofit organizations, work with local governments on legislation to help the environment, or participate in other causes that help improve the world in some way.

For example, Shār Brands donates 20% of their annual profits to The Conservation Alliance and are members of 1% for the Planet.

Red Flags to Look Out For 

Some companies use words and images that can mislead you into thinking a product is more sustainable than it actually is. Keep an eye out for these red flags. 

  • Vague language: “Green,” “Eco,” and “Natural” are marketing buzzwords that don’t necessarily mean a product is sustainable. 
  • Misleading imagery: A label can be green or have a picture of the planet Earth to make you associate it with sustainability. Look closer at the details on the label to see if they are actually sustainable. 
  • No certifications: Any brand can talk the talk, but with certifications on the product, we know they’re walking the walk.
  • Mass producers: By nature, mass production isn’t sustainable. 
  • Bad ingredients: Products containing bad ingredients like parabens, non-RSPO certified palm oil, or synthetic ingredients are massive red flags that they aren’t sustainable.

Sustainable Product Examples

We’re here to make sustainable shopping easy. These are just a few examples of sustainable products that we think are the whole package.


  1. Tony’s Chocolonely Dark Milk Pretzel Toffee Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely works directly with farmers to make sure their ingredients come from the most sustainable sources and helps these smaller farms thrive. They even use 100% traceable beans in their products!  
  2. Bee's Wrap Reusable Beeswax Food Wraps: Bee’s Wrap uses only organic materials, sustainably grown cotton, and humanely harvested beeswax. Their production is almost completely waste-free. 
  3. Dr. Bronner’s Unscented Pure-Castile Liquid Soap: Dr. Bronner’s only uses responsibly sourced materials and is dedicated to helping fight climate change through organic farming. Their production uses 100% renewable energy and they are working to be completely waste-free by 2023. 
  4. Who Gives A Crap Recycled Toilet Paper: Who Gives a Crap sources their bamboo from small family farms and uses recycled paper for their rolls. They work with several sanitation nonprofits and donate 50% of their profits to help communities with access to clean water and toilets.
  5. Crofter’s Organic Strawberry Just Fruit Spread: Crofter’s sources 100% transparent and organic ingredients and uses regenerative, fair trade certified cane sugar farms that meet their sustainability standards. Their packaging is also completely recyclable.

    Becoming a Sustainable Shopper

    Becoming a sustainable shopper is easier than you think. We understand that doing this research alone can be daunting, but don't worry, Hive has your back! Hive employs three Sustainability and Social Impact experts so that you can shop sustainable products and brands all in one place.

    There are countless advantages of shopping online and having your groceries delivered.

    Here are just a few:

    • More information is readily available for each product and easy to find.
    • Our grocery delivery lowers carbon emissions by 50% with trucks delivering to neighborhood clusters instead of each consumer driving to the store individually.
    • Considering only 8.2% of plastic bought is recycled, Hive delivers in recyclable packaging, eliminating single-use plastic bags.
    • Online shopping opens up more variety, so you don't have to settle for products that don’t meet your standards of sustainability.

    A sustainable product benefits the environment, society, and economy throughout its entire life cycle. Making the lifestyle choice to live sustainably is a big step toward helping our future generations live healthier and easier. 

    For shopping made easy with convenient delivery right to your doorstep, shop Hive Brand’s sustainable grocery store.

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