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What Is The Best Marketplace For Shopping Sustainably?

By Thomas Panton

The demand for ethical brands and greener products has skyrocketed over the last 20 years, growing 1000% – four times faster than the wider industry.

It’s left a £10bn UK market for sustainable consumer packaged goods, so it’s no surprise that multiple platforms have popped up to try and make it easier for consumers to find greener alternatives and shop them in one place.

But as the market has continued to grow, it’s become more complicated than ever for consumers to figure out which brands and which marketplaces they can trust.

In fact, evidence shows that still nearly 50% of consumers find it too complicated to even try to shop sustainably – and that’s not even considering those people who really try and then give up –

So in a complicated market, why did we launch yet another platform, and why should shoppers (and green brands!) trust Canopey as the Home for Buying Better®?

Current Marketplaces: The Good, The Bad, And The Greenwash

It’s important to note that lots of platforms have specific things that customers love. From their brand and their imagery, to their founder stories or their curated product offerings.

There is rarely one brand that takes the lion’s share of the whole market, and there’s always a place for multiple businesses offering similar products – just look at how the reusable coffee cup market has exploded since KeepCup (one of our brands) started back in 2007. And even huge behemoth companies like Amazon have competitors.

But the ethical consumer market is young and thriving. It’s growing quickly with lots of people hungry for their own piece of the pie. But whilst intentions may be good, strong standards don’t always follow, and they’re creating more confusion for shoppers.

It’s why the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has responded with regulation. The Green Claims Code was published to help the CMA clamp down on misleading claims, and the body has already started investigating companies such as Unilever that have been found to deliberately misleading consumers.

But we’re yet to see that trickle down to startups and small businesses… but it’s a-coming.

What Should Consumers Look For In An Ethical Marketplace?

There are three main challenges right now for consumers trying to shop sustainably: lack of time, knowledge about where to begin, and price point.

It’s understandable people don’t feel they have enough time to do the research, with so many websites, social media accounts and celebrities all offering different conflicting opinions.

Keeping up to date with the latest line on net zero or the best fabric for your wardrobe is no mean feat, and sustainability and ethical shopping is an absolute minefield of terms, concepts and jargon. It’s no wonder that people don’t feel knowledgeable enough.

And price point can be a challenge for some – though as we’ll explain below, there’s more that meets the eye than just the initial number you see at checkout.

Unless we tackle these three issues people are always going to be forced to choose between what fits their values and what’s most convenient and easy to do.

Lack Of Time

Most ethical marketplaces for sustainable shopping are solving one part of the problem – the time it takes to find products. What’s more, it’s oftentimes a very basic shopping site with the standard experience you might expect.

Even the bigger ethical marketplaces that have been going for a number of years, such as Veo, Social Supermarket, Ethical Superstore, and Avocado store, are all offering essentially the same thing – an online shop for ‘ethical’ products.

But there’s a catch.

Whilst these companies have done a great job at helping grow the ethical consumer market, they now find themselves in the challenging position of needing to actually check the green claims of the products they sell. No easy feat, we would know! And it’s made even worse by the fact that some of the brands selling on these sites will have no evidence for their claims at all.

Of course, there are ‘umbrella’ certifications and kitemarks like B Corp which can help with this, but these have their challenges too, and are usually out of reach for the smaller brands which are usually the ones which don’t have evidence for specific claims like being vegan or cruelty-free. You can read more about why our Canopey Kitemark is shaking up the “canopy of certifications” industry here.

Canopey prides itself on being the only marketplace that asks for primary evidence behind every single claim made by a brand before we add our accreditations. No evidence, no accreditation. We’ve done the work for you, so you don’t have to even think about it.

It's Hard To Know Where To Begin

The other challenge is that whilst the shopping part is made easier, learning about sustainability and how to buy more ethically really isn’t.

Sites such as Veo and Ethical Superstore have basic blogs but that’s about as far as they’ll go to help you. So if you’re someone who’s just starting out on the journey you still end up having to go elsewhere to find useful information from a reputable source you can trust.

But does anyone really have the time to research and trawl through hundreds of blogs and social media accounts? And while there are some fantastically well researched, renowned, and respected publications like Ethical Consumer, not everyone has the time or ability to pay for a subscription.

We’ve always strongly believed that you shouldn’t have to be an eco warrior or a climate scientist in order to shop sustainably.

This is why at Canopey we made the decision from the very beginning to build learning and educational content into as the entire shopping experience.

We pride ourselves on Canopey being the one place you can learn, shop, and track your impact – all under one canopy! This started with our swaps feature, which lets you explore the different things you can swap in your home, and which has developed into full-on guides, a fun game-like rewards system, and educational components across the site such as financial savings (example here) and impact data. We make it easy for you to learn, whilst making it easy to shop at the same time.

So yes, we’ve made shopping sustainably much more convenient, but we’ve also kept our focus on building something that at its core helps you learn more about living a more sustainable lifestyle.

You can discover how to make more sustainable swaps here, or check out our Simple Swaps collection for small changes you can make today. Here's just a couple picks from the full collection:

Price Point

The final piece of the puzzle has always scared the ethical consumer market. How do we talk about the fact it costs more to ‘do good’? Often, and rightly so, the argument is that these products are more expensive because they pay workers well, use better materials, and better made, etc. And these are all valid reasons

However, only Save Money, Cut Carbon seem to have stepped out from under the safe canopy of ethical marketplaces and started talking about the longer-term goal – saving money over time.

As the founder of Canopey I pride myself on surrounding myself with the best people for the job, and part of that work is looking at how we can innovate to solve the problems people face when shopping sustainably. We need to remove the barriers to streamline the journey.

That’s why we did a deep-dive into the price point challenge and were proud to release our first of a kind financial savings feature: doing the maths for you to help you see the money you can save by choosing more sustainable ways of doing things.

While it’s not relevant to every type of product out there, there are plenty of ways you can save heaps of money by reusing, refilling and reducing your waste by living a more sustainable lifestyle.

This is a huge win for those with longer term goals, and a much better way to think about the things we buy. So the next time you’re looking for something like a reusable water bottle you can now easily see that you’re able to save more than £300 over two years thanks to all those single use plastic bottles you’re replacing.

Challenging The Big Marketplaces

It’s all very well trying to make sustainable shopping easier, but it’s also super important to present a reasonable challenger to the mainstream brands too. The Amazons, Etsys, and Argos’ of the world. How can a little startup in the ethical consumer market challenge the trillion dollar behemoth industry that is so dominated by these companies?

As with anything we build under the Canopey, its user focussed. The idea being that if we can make the experience as good, if not better, than the mainstream players, then we’re not only converting the ethical consumer, but we’re also bringing in the everyday consumer too.

We want people of all backgrounds, beliefs, and values to buy better under one canopy. This is why we’ve embedded rewards into the platform, but more than this the gamification of ethical shopping - this is what we won a Innovate UK government grant for and continue to challenge what it means to shop online.

List of ticks and crosses for Canopey vs other marketplaces

So What Is The Best Ethical Marketplace?

Well, we’ll let you decide, but hopefully the above gives a detailed overview of what we’re doing under the Canopey to drive forward the world of ethical shopping and provide extra value for both green-minded consumers and ethical brands.

Ultimately, if we can continue to push the boundaries of what it means to be a marketplace, and really present a trustworthy experience that is more valuable for everyone, no matter where you are on your journey as a more sustainable human, then we can change the face of the consumer industry for good.