Sustainability is a big deal. It's a mover and a shaker.
The buzzword recycled through the green grapevine until merchants took notice. Today, we see a marriage of sustainability and consumerism, a partnership that we have coined "ethical selling." The end result: a happier and healthier global economy.
Ethical selling is a broad term you can apply several ways. It's often used in reference to an honest seller with integrity in his or her business practices. But ethical selling also refers to selling eco-friendly products, including those that are sourced from fair trade labor.
Jonäno, a company that produces organic clothing, builds its growth around the motto, "From seed to sewn." The company uses organic cotton that grows its own color-reducing the use of harsh dyes—and utilizes fair trade labor in the production process.
"As an eco-designer, my work is inspired by a love for the environment and fashion," notes Bonnie Siefers, Jonäno's founder.
As shops like Jonäno provide more opportunity to buy sustainable products, more consumers grab hold of the values of ethical selling. Following on the heels of this movement are marketplace platforms seeking to accommodate online ethical sellers and buyers. Here we look at some of those marketplaces and the benefits of ethical selling.
An 'Etsy' for eco items
Since 2010, Eco Market has grown to more than 1,700 global sellers of more than 10,000 ethical products
One such place is Eco Market. Formerly known as Ethical Community, the marketplace refers to itself as the "Etsy for eco and natural products," leaving room only for ethical sellers.
"To sell your products on Eco Market, [items] have to be either made from an eco-friendly material, such as organic cotton or produced in an ethical way, such as using fair trade labor," says co-founder Liam Patterson.
Sellers can verify their products are ethically produced by obtaining a certificate from appropriate sources, such as the Soil Association or the Fair Trade Federation, he adds.
Eco Market officials think one of the most important aspects of ethical selling is the story behind a product, so they ask sellers to explain their stories and provides interactive tools to help make the marketplace more engaging.
Since its relaunch in 2010, Eco Market has grown to more than 1,700 global sellers of more than 10,000 ethical products. The platform wants to make it easy for sellers to open shop. Simply register your standard information and list your products.
Ethical sellers fit the bill if their product falls into at least one of the following categories: natural, energy efficient, vegan, biodegradable, recycled, organic, fairly traded, forest friendly, water conservation and animal friendly. The only cost sellers pay on Eco Market is a 10-percent fee of the total selling and shipping cost.
Trash morphs into fashion
Etsy also loves ethical selling. It's most known for being a friendly place where buyers can find quality handmade products. But not all handmade items are necessarily green, so there's a team of Etsy sellers who try to promote listings that are considered "trashion," i.e., trash that has been turned into fashion.
The Trashion team requires its members to stay engaged in the forum and hosts an outside blog to encourage trash talk, so to speak. And, of course, the group endorses Etsy products by ethical sellers.
eBay Green acts as a hub for buyers to search listings and for sellers to consider practices that will make their selling more ethical
eBay has also joined the ethical selling movement with eBay Green. This platform promotes eBay listings that are environmentally sustainable, though the term is more loosely applied here. While many listings include new products that are ethically produced, the marketplace boasts that "the greenest product is often the one that already exists."
Generally, if it's a reused or upcycled product, it fits eBay Green. For example, used GPS devices are acceptable because buying used systems reduces the carbon footprint. Vinyl records make the list, too, because, well, they're used. It seems if you can save something from the landfill, it can be "green" on eBay.
eBay Green, however, is not a platform for sellers to list their items. Rather, it acts as a hub for buyers to search listings and for sellers to consider practices that will make their selling more ethical.
Ethical selling: good for your sales and the planet
There's a lot to be said about what makes ethical selling so popular. It's a particular niche in the marketplace that is relatively new—you might even say green—and still evolving. Merchants who tap into that niche early have the benefit of building a solid customer base for the years to come. But it's much more than just a business opportunity.
"Eco and natural products have huge benefits often beyond the bottom line," says Patterson of Eco Market.
Sourcing ethical products helps protect animals, human health, and our global environment, while also preventing the exploitation of child labor and other workers, he explains.
Patterson believes the benefit of ethical selling includes merchants being successful without causing discomfort and suffering elsewhere in the world.
"Consumers increasingly realize this and are searching out natural and healthy alternatives, which means this is a huge opportunity for any retailer to build a strong business from these shoppers," he adds.