Methodology: Our Research and Ethical Audits
The Good Shopping Guide audits brands for their ethical impact on the environment, people and animals. We publish our results on our Ethical Ratings tables. We have created tables for every product section, and score companies so they can be compared across a range of criteria. Our tables are designed to give readers a quick, at-a-glance view of the overall ethical scores awarded to different companies and brands. We conduct one of the most rigorous appraisals of any ethical consumer accreditation bodies.
But how do we audit brands? What’s our methodology?
Here’s how we rate.
The Good Shopping Guide presents brands in two groups on our tables:
- Brands listed in the green section: these brands score well in every ethical criterion that is relevant to that particular product sector. These companies may apply to use The Good Shopping Guide Ethical Accreditation logo on packaging and marketing materials.
- Brands listed in the red section: these brands score poorly against other companies in their product sector.
We research the records of the companies and the parent companies that own popular brands. In some cases, supposedly ethical brands score much lower than you might expect. This is because the parent company of the brand is involved in unethical practices, often on behalf of other brands in their wider portfolios. For example:
- A skincare brand certified by Cruelty-Free International’s Leaping Bunny might receive a low rating under our Animal Welfare criteria. We may have investigated this brand’s parent company and found that it is involved in animal testing.
- A Fairtrade-certified chocolate brand might be given a middle rating under Fairtrade. We may have investigated this brand’s parent company and discovered that other brands in their portfolio are not Fairtrade certified.
Our investigation into parent companies is what makes our auditing process so unique amongst other ethical accreditation bodies.
The Category Definitions: Environment, Animals, People and Other
Our criteria are split into four categories:
Let’s break down the specific requirements for each of these categories.
The quality of a company’s environmental reporting says a lot about its ethical standards. Sustainability and CSR reports (Corporate Social Responsibility) are becoming more commonplace. So for consumers, it’s getting easier to rate companies on their environmental efforts and impact. A good report will contain several fixed targets rather than vague statements of intent.
To earn The Good Shopping Guide top rating, the report must be dated within the last two years. The report must set multiple concrete and company-wide performance targets relating to the environment, and display some evidence of progress on previous targets. It must also demonstrate an understanding of the company’s main environmental impacts.
These requirements may be less strict for small and medium sized companies. For instance, small companies’ environmental reports may be less comprehensive but may still earn a top rating. Companies which fail to publish any report get a bottom rating; companies with inadequate reports get a middle rating.
Social and environmental campaigners target nuclear power for two main reasons: its link to the production of nuclear weapons and the pollutant properties of radioactive waste.
Nuclear waste remains dangerous for 250,000 years, which greatly increases the security problem attached to its potential for use in nuclear weapons. The nuclear industry argues that, as an electricity generator that does not produce greenhouse gases, nuclear power should have a role in combating climate change. However, environmental campaigners prefer to support a sustainable future through energy conservation and the development of ‘cleaner’ power sources such as solar, wind, and hydro power. These renewables do not come with the same risks as nuclear power.
A bottom rating indicates the company is involved in the design, construction or operation of nuclear power stations, radioactive waste handling and/or the mining, processing, or reprocessing of uranium. It also may indicate the production of other nuclear-related equipment, such as monitoring facilities. Companies receive a bottom rating if they are found to be involved in the Nuclear Power industry. This includes companies listed in the Buyers’ Guide of Nuclear Engineering International or those that are members of the World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Industry Association, or World Nuclear Transport Institute.
Genetic Modification (GM)
No one really knows the possible effects of GM food (Genetically Modified food) on our health and the environment. GM crops have not been around long enough for scientists to know if these foods are truly safe for consumption. The public and certain NGOs are therefore anxious about their use. Releasing genetically altered organisms into the environment could disrupt ecosystems, as genetically modified crops are typically considered more harmful to many groups of wildlife than their conventional equivalent. Sometimes, the genetic code for these GM crops can be patented and owned by large seed companies, which gives these companies power over farmers.
In the Food and Drink sectors, a bottom rating indicates that the company uses GM ingredients in any of its products. A middle rating is given to companies that do not have a policy on their website regarding the use of GMOs but where no negative records were found. A top rating is awarded to companies that clearly state that they do not use GM ingredients in their products. There are other categories where this methodology is also applied, such as the Period Products section, where GM cotton is a prevalent issue.
In other sectors, a bottom rating is awarded to companies involved in the non-medical genetic modification of plants or animals or to companies that use GM in their products. A top rating is awarded to companies that have a statement opposing the use of GM crops and/or where no criticisms have been found.
Non-organic farming reduces biodiversity, encourages irreversible soil erosion and generates run-off that is awash with harmful chemicals. Organic produce is grown or made without the use of synthetic fertilisers, pesticides, herbicides or fungicides.
In the Fashion sector, a company only receives a top ethical rating if it sells one or more own-brand product lines made of certified organic material, such as from the Global Organic Textiles Standard (GOTS).
In all other sectors where this category appears, a top rating indicates that one or more of the company’s products is approved by an organic certification body, including, but not limited to, Soil Association, European Union, ECOCERT, and USDA.
It is important to note that the top rating may have been awarded to a company that sells organic products in a similar product sector. For instance, a company with an organic certified shampoo product will also receive a top rating in other similar product sectors, such as skincare or makeup. If you are concerned about using only organic products, check the ingredients list for more information.
Toxic Chemicals Policy
Household cleaning products may contain chemicals that are linked to numerous health and environmental concerns. These chemicals have been linked to asthma, in utero and infant developmental problems, harm to the reproductive system, and even cancer. In addition, chemicals can pollute streams and rivers and persist in the environment indefinitely, possibly entering the food chain.
Within the Cleaning Products, Washing-up Liquid and Laundry Detergents sectors, we assess companies on their usage of the following chemicals: formaldehyde, parabens, phthalates, and triclosan. These chemicals are particularly toxic.
For a top rating, a company must have a policy that outlines that it does not use any of these chemicals. If a company can prove that they do not use three of those chemicals, they are given a middle rating. The lowest rating is given to companies who continue to use more than one toxic chemical or where no policy can be found.
In the Paint sector, Toxic Chemicals Policy relates to the use of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which have been linked to air pollution and health risks. For a top rating, a company must clearly state that its paints contain low levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) or none at all.
The Energy Saving Recommended logo was established by the Energy Saving Trust and guarantees a high standard of energy efficiency. The logo appears on a wide range of household appliances, including fridges, freezers, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers, light bulbs, light fittings, gas boilers and heating controls. A top rating indicates that one or more of the company’s products is recommended by the Energy Saving Trust.
An Ecolabel certification shows that a product or service is produced with less impact on the environment and can help people make informed choices. Some labels look at the overall environmental impact of a product or service from its inception to final disposal (life cycle assessment) whilst other labels only focus on certain environmental aspects.
A top rating under this criterion indicates that one or more of the company’s products within the sector being researched bear a Type I Ecolabel, as defined by the International Organisation for Standardization (ISO). This includes Blue Angel, Nordic Swan, the EU Ecolabel (Eco Flower), Japan’s Eco Mark, EPEAT, Energy Star, etc.
Timber Sourcing Policy
This category applies to our Ethical Furniture sector. Unsustainable forest management, where too many trees are removed too quickly or entire forests are logged, is increasing due to the huge demand for timber and paper products. This contributes to global deforestation and climate change, threatening wildlife and communities that are dependent on forest resources.
A top rating is awarded to companies* with 100% FSC certified (or other credible schemes like PEFC) garden/tropical hardwood and where the majority (50%+) of all other timber products are certified/recycled. A middle rating is given to companies where the majority (50%+) of wood products are FSC certified/recycled and a bottom rating is given where less than 50% of wood is certified/recycled or there is no published policy or information available.
*These ratings are awarded by brand/retailer rather than company group
Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of the environmental benefits of using renewable energy within the home. It is therefore important for energy suppliers to use as much renewable energy in their fuel mix as possible.
For a top rating, companies within the Energy sector must source 100% of their electricity from renewable sources. For a middle rating, they must source the same or more than the minimum percentage required by law, which differs between the UK and Northern Ireland. Companies that do not reach the minimum requirement receive a bottom rating.
Reusable Cup Scheme
Plastic pollution and packaging waste are well-known environmental issues, which is why reusable containers are becoming a popular solution. Within the Coffee Shops sector, a top rating is awarded to brands that offer customers the option to bring in a reusable cup. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and hygiene safety, many coffee shops have removed the reusable cup option. We hope that in the future we will be able to reintroduce this criterion.
This category applies to companies in the Energy sector. Pollution is a critical environmental concern, contributing to the destruction of our planet and exacerbating global warming. To achieve a top rating, a company must not have received any criticism in the public domain relating to pollution in the last 5 years.
This category applies to companies in the Finance sector, which are known for their involvement in harmful environmental projects, such as coal plants and fossil fuel extraction. A low rating is awarded to companies that have been found to be involved in a project that has drawn widespread criticism from environmental NGOs and campaigners in the last 5 years.
Carbon Disclosure & Reduction Targets
There is now bigger pressure than ever on businesses to do more when it comes to halting climate change. Due to a large amount of money deposited, held and invested by the finance sector, it is important that companies show transparency and commitment to reducing their carbon emissions. For a top rating, a company must publicly disclose its Scope 1, 2, and 3 carbon emissions and pledge to reduce these emissions in line with the Paris Agreement goals*. If companies only do one of the above, they receive a middle rating.
* This applies to large companies only; micro, small and medium-sized companies are exempt from this criteria.
Better Cotton Initiative
The Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) exists to make global cotton production more sustainable for the people who produce it, the environment it grows in, and for the sector’s future. The four main aims of the BCI are to:
- Reduce the environmental impact of cotton production
- Improve the livelihoods and economic development in cotton-producing areas
- Improve commitment to and flow of Better Cotton throughout the supply chain
- Ensure the credibility and sustainability of the Better Cotton Initiative.
In the Fashion Retailers sector, a top rating is awarded to companies that are members of the Better Cotton Initiative.
Approximately 115 million animals are used in animal tests every year across the world. Most tests are carried out on mice, rats, guinea pigs, birds, fish and rabbits, but other animals including dogs, cats and primates are also experimented on.
Companies are penalised under our Animal Welfare criteria if they conduct or commission animal testing, whether for medical, cosmetic, or other purposes. They are also penalised if they have been the subject of continuing criticism from animal rights organisations such as Cruelty Free International and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
For a top rating, a company must not conduct or commission tests on animals and must not be the subject of criticism from animal rights campaigners.
In the sectors outlined below*, a company must have:
- CFI Leaping Bunny certification OR
- A robust Animal Testing Policy which confirms they operate a fixed-cut off date for ingredients and products within the supply chain (manufacturers, ingredients suppliers etc) OR
- Only produce and sell within the EU
If a company does not comply with one of the above criteria, it receives a middle rating (where no animal welfare/testing criticisms have been found) or a bottom rating (where animal welfare/testing criticisms have been found).
Within the Fashion sector, to obtain a top rating, a company must have a robust Animal Welfare Policy. For example, ruling out the use of animal materials within products from endangered species, fur and angora; only use leather/skin when it is a by-product, no wool obtained through mulesing, no live plucking etc. In addition to this, if a company sells own-brand cosmetics, it must adhere to the criteria outlined above for Health & Beauty products.
This criterion rewards companies’ support for a plant-based lifestyle. Apart from the moral questions that surround killing or using animals for food, a plant-based diet is better from an ecological standpoint too, since animal products are extremely inefficient to produce and come with a high environmental cost.
A top rating in this category indicates that a company has one or more products certified as vegetarian or vegan, such as from The Vegetarian Society or The Vegan Society. It is important to note that this means one brand within a company group may receive a top rating for another brand’s vegetarian or vegan status. The criterion of Vegetarian/Vegan, therefore, does not guarantee that the brand itself has vegetarian or vegan certified products.
Sustainable Fishing Methods
Unsustainable fishing methods lead to high amounts of bycatch, where unwanted fish species are caught, killed, and discarded. Many important marine species are killed through unsustainable fishing, including dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles. Using sustainable fishing methods can reduce bycatch and help protect our ocean life.
In the Tinned Tuna sector, a top rating is awarded to companies with a policy that rules out all unsustainable fishing methods and confirms that all tuna in their supply chain is either caught through pole and line or hand line methods. A middle rating is given to companies that confirm that 50% or more of the tuna in their supply chain is either caught through pole and line or hand line methods. A bottom rating is awarded to companies using pole and line or hand line methods for less than 50% of their tuna, or where no policy could be found.
Many companies rely on cheap labour to produce their products for the maximum profit margins, leaving many supply chain workers with insufficient income. Moreover, poorly managed supply chains are full of unethical practices towards wage workers, such as forced and child labour, poor working conditions, and abuse.
Companies and businesses are penalised under this category if, in the last 5 years, they have been implicated in human rights abuses (either through their supply chain or through their involvement in a project that has proven links with human rights abuses). A bottom ethical rating indicates more than one serious criticism, whilst a middle rating indicates one criticism.
This category is used in the Home, Technology, and Fashion sectors. In other sections of our site, it is subsumed in the more widely defined Public Record Criticisms category.
Within the Supermarkets sector, we apply a different weighting for Human Rights criticisms. Due to the number of different sectors Supermarkets operate in and the greater risk of controversy, points are awarded for up to 4 criticisms to allow for greater differentiation between the scores. If a Supermarket has 1-2 criticisms they receive 10 points, for 3-4 criticisms they receive 5 points, and for more than 5 they receive 0.
Code of Conduct
This category applies to the Fashion, Home, and Technology sectors. The top ethical rating is awarded to those companies which have drawn up a comprehensive supplier code of conduct that formally acknowledges the right to form a union. The code must be publicly available and regulate against excessive working hours and forced or child labour, as well as other standards set by the International Labor Organization (ILO).
A middle rating represents involvement in the manufacture or supply of nuclear or conventional weapons, including ships, tanks, armoured vehicles and aircraft; components of weapons systems; fuel, computing and communications services; systems aiding the launch, guidance, delivery or deployment of missiles. Non-strategic parts of the military, such as catering services or medication, are not included in this list.
The bottom ethical rating indicates that the business (directly or through a sister company) was listed as one of the world’s 100 biggest arms-producing companies in the latest list published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
We include this criterion because we do not believe that corporations should fund political parties. There is considerable evidence that the huge wealth of corporations can distort the political process. Elections in the USA in particular can appear to be ‘bought’ by the candidate with the biggest budget, and parties that are critical of business are quickly marginalised. In some countries, such as Germany, corporate funding is quite sensibly prohibited by law. Until this also occurs in the UK, ethical consumers can refuse to buy from brands that are embroiled in politics.
A middle rating indicates that the company and/or company employees and/or company Political Action Committees (PACs) have donated more than £10,000 (or the equivalent in US Dollars) in the last 5 years to a party or political organisation in the UK or the US. A bottom rating indicates that more than £50,000 (or the equivalent in US Dollars) has been donated.
Certification from The Fairtrade Foundation ensures that producers are guaranteed a minimum price and paid regularly. This price covers the cost of production, the payment of workers, and the development of farms and small holdings. Fairtrade protects small farmers from the fluctuating prices that have previously pushed many below the poverty line.
In our section on Ethical Coffee Shops, a top rating is awarded to companies that exclusively sell coffee certified with the Fairtrade mark; a middle rating indicates that some Fairtrade coffee is served; a bottom rating shows that fair trade coffee is not served at all. Similar criteria apply to our Tea, Coffee, Chocolate, Bananas, and Sugar tables. Companies specialising in these products are rewarded with a top rating if most of their products are Fairtrade certified; companies with only some Fairtrade lines receive a middle rating.
In the other tables within the Ethical Food & Drink and Ethical Flower Delivery sectors, a top rating indicates that one or more of the company’s products carry the Fairtrade mark, with no middle rating available.
As we all presently live in a free-market economy, we have learned to accept that the language of marketing tends to accentuate the positive and play down the negative. The point at which this becomes ‘irresponsible’ is difficult to define, but we focus mainly on those practices that have direct health implications. The bottom ethical rating indicates the marketing of products in a way that has been criticised for its effect on public health, such as harmful medications. This category only applies to the Health & Beauty section of our site.
Other Irresponsible Lending
This category only applies to companies in the Finance sector. A bottom rating indicates involvement in a project in the last five years that has drawn widespread criticism from human rights groups.
Ethical Trading Schemes
The top ethical rating is awarded to those companies which are members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) or are affiliated to the Fair Labor Association (FLA). This guarantees that the company’s supply chain is subject to independent scrutiny.
Public Record Criticisms
A bottom rating indicates more than one serious criticism in the last five years from NGOs or credible news organisations, such as Human Rights Watch and The Guardian. The huge range of criticism covered by this criterion mainly relates to the environment and human rights. The undue political influence exercised through lobby groups and industry associations, and involvement in political corruption, are also represented under this criteria.
Companies are penalised if they are part-owned by a separate company that has been the subject of severe criticism from campaign groups or is heavily involved in the armaments and nuclear industries. If a company owns more than half of another company’s shares, it is listed as the company group.
In the Home, Technology, and Fashion sections of The Good Shopping Guide, this category is split into Human Rights and Other Criticisms.
Within the Supermarkets sector, we apply a different weighting for Public Record Criticisms. Due to the huge number of different sectors Supermarkets operate in and the greater risk of controversy, points are awarded for up to 4 criticisms to allow for greater differentiation between the scores. If a Supermarket has 1-2 criticisms they receive 10 points, for 3-4 criticisms they receive 5 points, and for more than 5 they receive 0.
Under this criteria, mutual building societies and organisations which are not for the profit of shareholders are awarded a top rating. Mutuals only invest in mortgages, and so never get involved in business projects condemned by many of the world’s NGOs. They make important policy decisions democratically, with each saver entitled to one vote.
Responsible Investment Policy
As consumers become increasingly aware of where their money is invested and choose not to support potentially unethical businesses/projects, it is important for companies to integrate ESG factors into their investment funds and display transparency to customers.
A top rating is awarded to companies which integrate ESG/sustainability principles into investments PLUS rule out all controversial investments (armaments, tobacco, fossil fuels etc.). However, a 5% tolerance level is accepted where relevant (when accompanied by adherence to clear policies and codes).
A middle rating is awarded to companies that have policies to integrate ESG/Sustainability factors into investments PLUS outline details of exclusion in investments in controversial projects and/or are signatories of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) or the Equator Principles.
A bottom rating is awarded to companies with no policy on responsible investment or where details of exclusions are vague. Building Societies are given leeway when it comes to publishing a Responsible Investment Policy and are awarded a middle rating where no policy has been found. This is because the majority of building societies’ assets are held in residential property mortgages and are therefore far less likely to lend to companies involved in controversial activities.
This category only applies to brands that have received our Ethical Accreditation independently from their parent company. A top rating indicates that the brand displays a strong commitment to ethics and sustainability, which can be achieved through a range of policies relating to the Environment, Animals and People. A middle rating is awarded to brands that have some good policies, but not enough to be awarded the maximum number of points. A bottom rating is given to brands that do not appear to have an ethical or sustainable focus.
Company Group Rating
This category only applies to brands that have received our Ethical Accreditation independently from their parent company. When auditing brands separately, it is important to take the overall ethics of its parent company into account. A bottom rating is awarded to brands whose company group appears in the bottom section of The Good Shopping Guide.
While there are many single-issue certification bodies that ensure standards for organic produce, fair trade, cruelty-free or energy efficiency, our Good Shopping Guide Ethical Accreditation logo covers the whole spectrum of ethical concerns.
The companies, brands, or products which have gained Ethical Accreditation have been thoroughly screened and scrutinised by our team of researchers, ensuring that only companies, brands or products that are eco-friendly and have a strong code of ethics and an unwavering commitment to corporate social responsibility have the privilege to carry the logo.
GSG (Good Shopping Guide) Score
The GSG Score provides one overall score for each company. The top, middle, and bottom ethical ratings on the tables generally count as ten, five, and zero points respectively. Some categories, however, are weighted slightly differently according to the level of NGO and consumer concern. For instance, due to the number of reported human rights violations in the supply chains of electronics manufacturers and clothes companies, a clean record scores 20 points for Human Rights in these product sectors. Each company’s total ethical score is then converted into a percentage, which becomes the GSG Score.
More detailed ethical information shows the brand name, under which the product is sold, and the company group – which is ultimately responsible for the brand.
The ratings shown on the more detailed information represent criticism from environmental and human rights organisations across the world. Information from a wide variety of sources – from government agencies as well as NGOs – has been compiled by The Good Shopping Guide’s team of researchers since 2007 and now (research updates pending). Results for companies may occasionally vary from table to table.