How to do a sustainable brand audit & looking for the finer details.

Sustainable brand audit: why you need to do it?

And how to do practice it into your daily routine with ease?

By Sanjoli Arora

You have successfully incorporated a few sustainable practices into your daily routine and even encouraged a few loved ones to switch to sustainable living. Life is good and you feel content in doing your part. But then you make a purchase and after a few days realise it may not have been a conscious choice. Maybe it was the plastic packaging that came with it or certain unethical brand practices that have come to light. You now end up feeling guilty for the one small choice you made.

If reading the above scenario feels #RelatableAF and you are now on a guilt trip, let’s try and help you snap out of it. In today’s world making good, ethical decisions are getting tough each day. Lack of transparency in production cycles or pricing and smart marketing tactics are successful in misleading consumers.

While you realise the need for sustainable living and have adopted a sustainable lifestyle, when it comes to conscious consumption, you feel lost and helpless. Thus, the need for a sustainable brand audit. The rules are simple- you research the brand thoroughly. What is difficult is getting it right. But if we have learnt anything from our sustainable journey, merely taking the first step in the right direction is important.

Here is a step by step guide to doing a sustainable brand audit. While we are focussing on brands as a whole, you can apply this principle to every purchase you make here off.

1. Identify your Need

A rather unexpected first step, but knowing why you need to do a sustainable brand audit or for that matter make a purchase is always a good practice. Humans today are consuming things at an exceedingly rapid pace. Whether it is goods, services or even data- our consumption levels are skyrocketing. Thus, taking a moment to think about why you need this product or service is crucial. Sit down and ask yourselves a few questions.

  • Do I really need this product? Are purchases by this brand in the past justified and right?
  • Is this brand or service helping me solve a problem?
  • Are there any alternative(s) to solving this issue?
  • Can any existing products I have, help me?
  • Does this purchase solve the problem effectively and is worth my time, money and energy?

These may just be a few questions you can ask to identify your need. If you feel you have a satisfactory and compelling answer for all these questions then you can move ahead to the next steps.

2. Make a list of best practices

A brand audit is essentially dissecting brand practices. A sustainable brand audit is making sure the brand preaches conscious practices during the entire production process. There are many practices that ensure a sustainable and circular economy. Getting all those right is still a utopian vision. Thus, we suggest you make a list of practices that are close to you personally and essential for a brand you shall trust.

But how do you know which practices you want to support and encourage? There are a few simple exercises that can help you. The first one is to identify a cause close to your heart, say animal rights. Now start brainstorming issues pertaining to this cause. Following a vegan diet and adopting a vegan lifestyle can be one way. This can then help you further zoom out on best practices like – products that are not animal tested, goods that don’t harm or use animal skin etc.

Besides the zoom out approach, you can also think of the process of production. So, for instance, your new year resolution is to shop less and only ethical then you need to focus on quality over quantity. When looking for sustainable brand practices you can identify based on the production cycle of a garment.

List of sustainable practices employed during the production cycle:

  1. How the raw materials are sourced and turned into fabric? (Environmental cost)
  2. How harmful is the production process for the workers? (Human cost)
  3. Are they paid fairly for their services? (Fair Trade)
  4. Is the garment made in a different part of the world? How does it get delivered to me? (Carbon Footprint)
  5. How is the product packaged? (Plastic-free)
  6. Does the brand help with the repair and mending of the garment? (Conscious Consumption)
  7. Does the brand allow for returns or textile recycling at the end of the garment’s life cycle? (Circular practices)

Make a list of practices you would want to start preaching and look for brands who share your vision. Once you have an initial momentum, keeping adding to your list.

3. Research the brand in and out

You have identified your need and have a list of practices you support. It is now time to begin our sustainable brand audit. We suggest you have a list of brands you frequently shop from ready so that we can research them one by one.

  1. Start by reading the history of the brand. Where it comes from, what core values it upholds and what’s the brand’s vision? All these questions will help give the brand a personality and help us audit it better.
  2. Now hit the search bar with the brand name and the practices you would like it to preach. Go one by one from your list of practices and see how the brand fairs out. Does the search result appear vague or has no results? Try similar keywords. If you still get a no-show, then the brand probably doesn’t care enough to include this practice in its pages.
  3. If a brand doesn’t give you satisfactory answers for your first 2-3 key practices then going further is a lost cause. Unfortunately, that brand is not worth your time. If you do however feel sad to say goodbye, write a petition or email to the brand sharing your concern and highlighting the need to preach sustainable practices.
  4. If you are left with somewhat vague answers, dig deeper. Find news articles, social media posts or public forum threads to discover multiple viewpoints on the subject.
  5. In case you found compelling and correct answers, hurray you have found ‘the sustainable brand’!
    Psst, do share this perfect brand with us too in the comments section 🙂

4. Look out for the red flags

While it may look like your sustainable brand audit is done and dusted, it is not. Like we mentioned before, brands are particularly nasty in hiding information and misleading consumers. Tactics like greenwashing make the brand look sustainable in its practices. In reality, these are just well planned and executed marketing gimmicks.

But don’t worry, identifying them isn’t too hard. Our article on the seven sins of greenwashing and how to spot them should help you. A few red (or in this case extra green) flags to look out for are:-

  • The use of eco-friendly words of colours does not always mean an organic product or brand.
  • One or two ‘conscious’ product lines is only a way to look green for the brand.
  • While a brand may claim to be ethical and follow environment-friendly practices, it is always good to look for industry certification or proof of the same.

5. Keep updating your research

Researching the brand once is not enough. Just like your own sustainable journey, where you learn more as you practice; brands also need to keep up with new sustainable discussions and practices.

Thus, it is essential to keep updating your research. If you see a brand that was on your conscious list and is now slipping up, reach out and let them know how they could improve. Similarly, share a thank you letter with brands that continue to make your sustainable journey easier. Constant feedback is crucial for each one of us- individuals and brands alike.

Carrying out a sustainable brand audit is definitely a task. But it feels like a difficult one only because we have never done it before. Once we start incorporating this in our journey to conscious consumption, it won’t feel so cumbersome.

Sanjoli is currently working as a Content Strategist and has a Master’s degree in Fashion Journalism. She has contributed to publications like MensXPMindless Mag and Sustain: The Mag in the past. Conscious Charcha is her way of learning more about sustainability and spreading the word about a sustainable lifestyle.

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