A Consumer Guide to buying online, ethical and eco friendly gifts

Today, the plethora of “eco-friendly” business and marketing claims can be confusing for customers wanting to buy ethically. How can you be sure that a gift you’ve found online is truly sustainable? How can you wise up to the dreaded green wash?

We’ve been running our artisan gluten free bakery, Honeybuns, as an environmentally friendly business for 23 years. By sharing some of the challenges, discoveries and eco tips we’ve encountered, we can hopefully make your online gift shopping experience greener and easier.

What makes a gift ethical?

“Ethics” is (according to trusty old Wikipedia) a form of moral philosophy rather than a prescriptive list of values. Our ethics are therefore our own to decide.

Ranking your own list of ethics is a good way to start. If you cannot abide plastic packaging then there are now plenty brands offering plastic free gift wrap (we love Be Chocolat), and this could feature at the top of your list. Perhaps you are more interested in whether renewable energy has been used in the making of the gifts you are buying? Brands are increasingly upfront about their renewable energy sources and/or how carbon neutral they are. Other ethical considerations could include:

  • Are the foodie gifts you are browsing Soy free? Vegan? Cruelty free?
  • Who is making the products and how are they treated? Fairtrade and “non sweatshop” logos/guarantees can be helpful.
  • Does the company use recycled materials and is the end product easily recyclable?
  • Does the brand go above and beyond to invest back into the environment and or community? E.g. do they plant trees to mitigate their carbon footprint? Do they support charities?

Tree planting at our Dorset bakery

Top Tip

  • Plan ahead with your ethical gift buying. Thus leaving time to do your own research into a company’s green/eco/ethical credentials. Most companies will have an “About us” or “Our values” section on their website. Depending on how much time and energy you have, you can email them requesting a copy of their ethical and/or environmental policies.

How green is Honeybuns?

From a small, independent business perspective, we’ve learnt that, the environmentally friendly options are not always obvious. For instance, the film we use to wrap our gluten free cake slices is a soft plastic which is bad….or is it?

Honeybuns Bakery

We wanted to swap this plastic film for an eco friendly compostable film; however we were ourselves in danger of falling for green washing. There were plenty of companies willing to sell us an “eco friendly” biodegradable film until we researched a little further….

After speaking to the incredibly informative, not for profit organisation WRAP organisation we discovered that the term “Bio” is not regulated in the UK and does not mean a material is necessarily kinder to the environment. Critically for us, the composting infra structure is lacking here in the UK and the most environmentally responsible choice was for us to use a recyclable plastic film.

Happily most large UK supermarkets, led by Tescos in 2021, now accept soft plastics for recycling. This includes bread, crisp and confectionary packaging.

As a business, we can still do better for our customers and environment. We could use a plastic film that is made from recycled materials as well as itself being recyclable. This is considerably more expensive but we are working on ways we can budget for this.

Our conclusion: to be upfront and transparent with our customers. If we have made a compromise, we need to own and explain it.

Top Tip

  • Seek out trusted sources of evidence based information.
  • For all things packaging we cannot recommend WRAP highly enough. We are not members/or involved in any way with them. We just (as you as a consumer can) refer closely to their website. Their “Clear on plastics” section on their website we found to be really helpful as an introduction.

Let’s take a look at Vegan and/or Cruelty Free gifts…..

Due to us creating vegan cakes in the bakery and wanting to register them as vegan with UK based The Vegan Society we’ve discovered there is a lot more to consider than eggs, butter and milk.

For example, we had not considered the animal cruelty issues surrounding coconut harvesting. According to the Vegan Society website,

“It was brought to our attention in early 2016 that monkeys may be being used to harvest coconuts in South East Asian countries.”

As we use coconut oil and coconut milk in our gluten free and vegan cakes we worked with the Vegan Society to ensure the coconuts were harvested without animal cruelty.

As with our packaging discoveries, we’ve learnt that the devil is in the detail and that seeking out a trusted, not for profit source of information, such as WRAP or The Vegan Society is a great first move.

Green wash can happen when brands use terms like “biodegradable” which can sound greener than they are.

In Summary:

At Honeybuns we’ve drawn up our own list of ethical priorities including:

  • Providing a fair, positive and supportive working environment for our team.
  • Abiding by our own “BeeGreen” values including extensive tree planting to mitigate our carbon emissions.
  • To avoid green washing by being transparent and citing our sources of evidence based information.

To check out our own range of handmade, thoughtfully produced gluten free cakes and online gifts please shop here.

If you have any questions, do get in touch via this blog in the comments section, or via facebook, email or telephone. 

Comment below and be sure to share this blog with a friend too. Thanks for reading!

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