What is a sustainable product?
The term 'sustainable product' can be subjective and include a wide variety of economic, social and environmental considerations. One broad definition of a 'sustainable product' is an item or service that minimises its impact on the environment at each phase of its life cycle.
Unfortunately, most products do not exist on a simple continuum from 'green' to 'brown' and so are not easy to compare. Usually their environmental impacts vary at different stages of their life cycle. For example:
- A product may be easy to recycle but is resource-intensive to manufacture (e.g. electronic equipment) or is used for a relatively short time (e.g. paper or plastic bags).
- A product may last a long time but may be toxic or difficult to recycle (e.g. treated timber).
Choosing sustainable products is about trying to find a balance between different environmental characteristics over the life of the product.
Many claims are made about products being 'environmentally friendly' or 'green'. Some Australian products are certified green by third-party organisations (see the links below for examples of these organisations). The Trade Practices Act 1974 has specific requirements for the accuracy of self-declared claims about the environmental performance of products. These requirements protect consumers from misleading and deceptive claims made by companies and suppliers. For more information see the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
The Waste Reduction and Purchasing Policy (WRAPP) specifies that Government agencies are expected to use their purchasing power to drive efficiency and environmental sustainability by giving priority to buying materials with recycled content where they are cost effective and performance competitive.
Under the NSW Government's Sustainability Policy agencies are now required to purchase certified efficient products and appliances where relevant, available and fit for purpose. Products must achieve a minimum 4-star rating under the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) Scheme and/or a minimum of 4-star rating under the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards (WELS) Scheme or Smart Approved WaterMark products and services (for outdoor use).
A minimum of 85% of all copy paper purchased by NSW Government is to contain recycled content by 2014. From the commencement of the 2008/09 financial year, agencies will need to specify inclusion of at least one recycled content paper option as part of each publication quote sought.
For more information on third party accreditation see:
Consumer advocacy website containing product reviews and independent product comparisons against a wide range of criteria including durability, energy and water efficiency. Includes a comparison between brands.
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission
Contains advice to consumers and industry on requirements for environmental claims in marketing, including a hotline for consumers to report misleading claims.
Page last updated: 02 March 2011