How to Tell If a Brand Is Ethical & Sustainable - Public Goods

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How to Tell If a Brand Is Ethical & Sustainable

For conscientious consumers, buying can be a lot like hiring someone.

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Looking good on paper isn’t enough. You might need to do a background check and contact a few references.

Let’s say you just tried a new type of shampoo, and you’re loving it. The ingredients seem healthy and the price is within your budget. What bothers you, though, is that you don’t know anything about the brand. You want to be sure the company isn’t doing anything that violates your standards of ethics and sustainability.

A quick Google search provides little useful information. It’s all links to the brand’s site, or positive press pieces, some of which seem suspicious. To be sure the brand is ethical and sustainable, use these tips to learn more.

Research the Founders and Executives

If there is something corrupt or questionable about the people behind a brand, it’s a good sign their practices are unethical. Here are a few red flags to look for regarding their histories:

  • Past associations with organizations that have harmed the environment, mistreated animals, been involved in lawsuits, etc.
  • Issues with fraud, embezzlement, high number of bankruptcies
  • Allegations of abusing workers or relying on unethical manufacturing
  • Donations to politicians and organizations that have done something against your values

Check Reviews, Forums and Social Media

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Brands can pour millions of dollars into ensuring the search results for their name are positive. It is more difficult, however, for them to control every thread, post and review on social media or forum sites.

If you want to go beyond Google, try some searching for the brand in these places:

  • Angie’s List: Use this site for local brands.
  • Better Business Bureau: BBB is a nonprofit that protects consumers.
  • Glassdoor: This career platform will show you how well a company treats their employees and contractors.
  • Reddit: Moderators and community members on Reddit are vigilant when it comes to telling the whole truth about brands. If there isn’t an existing thread on the brand, you can make a query.
  • Quora: This community is like a more open version of Reddit. You need to disclose your real name and include a head shot in your account.
  • Trustpilot: This site features reviews that describe consumer experiences, including their thoughts on brands.

For social media reviews, simply punch in the name of the brand on whatever platform you want to explore.

Private Label Usually Means More Trustworthy

Most brands puts their products through four steps: factory, brand, distributor and retailer — all before they reach the consumer. Private label companies, such as Public Goods, tend to have a more direct relationship with their customers. Trader Joe’s, another renowned example of a private label brand, also cuts out the distributor step and acts as a retailer.

This dynamic allows customers to hold brands to a higher level of accountability. If you have issues with a private label brand, it’s harder for them to hide behind other companies.


When a brand makes all the information you want easily accessible on their website and products, it usually means they have nothing to hide. Regarding sustainability, an eco-friendly brand will often list the ways in which they conserve natural resources or reduce negative impact on the planet. For example, some companies have pages or blog posts about their sustainability initiatives or practices.

Easy Access to Quality Customer Support

It should not be frustrating or difficult to reach a representative who can address your questions and concerns about the brand. When you do connect with someone, they should offer an empathic response and treat you with respect. If reaching a customer support representative means navigating a labyrinth of web pages and phone directories — designed to send you in a loop until you give up — it might indicate the company wants to deter people from sniffing around.

If you finish this research and find that everything checks out, you can sleep well knowing you are supporting a brand that is not causing any problems. Being at peace might make the products even more enjoyable.

Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.

From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.

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