There are few tech stories I could write without mentioning sustainability on some capacity. From transport to software to real estate, researchers, founders, and investors are increasingly focused on greening the planet.
It's a move that extends to shopping, with retail platforms like Vinted and Faircado showing a commitment to second-hand goods and the circular economy. ´There's also a place for mainstream retailers, but the challenge starts when you want to find sustainable but affordable replacements for everyday products.
Sustainable online marketplace El Green Mall launched last week. The first of its kind in Europe, it features products made in Europe for Europe and is bootstrapped by Federica Moreno and Ignacio García, currently based in Berlin.
It endeavours to resolve some hard-baked challenges that confront sustainable retail.
Hailing from Venezuela, Moreno explained that something as simple as buying a biodegradable mobile phone case requires research.
She recalls a relentless quest for a more conscious lifestyle, from trying to find sustainable alternatives to everyday items like blankets, makeup, or clothes, to ensuring entire supply chains are fair and ethical:
"I would spend hours and hours researching brands and researching products only to come to the conclusion that often the brands that I was trusting had shady sustainable claims. And often, the prices were just out of my budget."
Furthermore, Moreno sees cost as the core barrier to sustainable retail:
"Many people expect big corporations to change immediately, even if it means losing money, but they don't want to pay the price for a sustainable product. However, we must also acknowledge that living a sustainable lifestyle is a privilege in a high cost-of-living crisis."
She also noticed that "big corporations have overshadowed small and medium sustainable brands. So the solution is not to create duplicate products but to create a bridge between smaller makers and customers.
"We want to democratise sustainable retail by making it more accessible and down-to-earth."
"Consumption behaviour is a turning point in sustainability, and for that change to happen, as it is often costly (although cheaper in the long run), education and awareness are needed.
The market is defined by the individual, and when the individual is already immersed in conscious consumer behaviour, they will demand real change. Otherwise, there will continue to be demand for non-sustainable services, technologies and products."
This touches on one of the most challenging aspects of curating a green marketplace.
What do you mean when you say sustainability?
Sustainable criteria to shop by
Monero notes that "many people think that sustainability is only ecological and environmentalism."
In response, the company developed five sustainability criteria that cover a range of ethical and sustainable practices:
- Slow Production
- Planet Friendly Materials
- Fair Supply Chain
- Vegan & Cruelty-Free
- Giving Back
To be part of El Green Mall, each brand must meet at least three of the criteria.
Brands are researched and vetted for the products they offer, their values, and any certification to demonstrate their sustainability.
The company also believes the customer will be the final auditors using their purchasing power to decide which brands stay. We value your input and believe in democratising the sustainable market by allowing your voice to shape our offerings.
Since launching the store just a few weeks ago, the business has been approached by makers wanting to sell their goods in the online marketplace.
The most popular item to date is a sponge made using fishing nets. Nice one!