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Daily Footprint, #11 – Ethical and Sustainable Headphones

When my old iPod earbuds finally expired and went to the big Apple in the sky, I decided to search for a replacement that had a relatively positive social and/or environmental impact. I’m not crazy about over-ear headphones – I haven’t let go of that survival instinct where I need to hear at least some of the sounds around me – so I’m focusing here on in-ear headphones. Having said that, most of the in-ear headphones these days have silicone tips that blot out a lot of background sound, so they are a happy medium between expensive noise-cancelling headphones and cheap plastic earbuds. There are already a few good articles and blog posts that provide quick guides to some of the eco-friendly options available. Guides such as these are a useful starting point, but since they are often based purely on information provided on company websites, it’s more useful to have a report in the form of a review that considers the ethical aspects of the product. So this post will look at expectations versus reality for the two pairs that I tried out.

I made a shortlist of candidates based on some attributes that I wanted:

My candidates were House of Marley, LSTNJambooSymphonized, and Thinksound.

House of Marley

I ended up buying a pair of Uplift headphones from the House of Marley. Here’s a quick rundown on the quality (gold stars) and social and environmental impact (green stars).

Quality (2/5 gold stars)

Social and Environmental Impact (3/5 green stars)

Uplift headphones from House of Marley. The polystyrene packaging insert is at odds with their Eco-friendly image. Overall, 3/5 green stars for social and environmental impact.

There appears to be a disconnection between their claims and what they actually deliver. My feeling is that the company has good intentions but perhaps is suffering from poor leadership or organization.  I hope they can fix these issues and would support them in future if they did. You can read the full review here.

LSTN

I had to return the House of Marley headphones and ended up buying a pair of Wembley headphones from LSTN. Here’s my summary:

Quality (5/5 gold stars)

Social and Environmental impact (5/5 green stars)

Wembley headphones from LSTN. Room for improvement on materials used for package insert and pouch. But overall, 5/5 green stars for social and environmental impact.

They were not perfect. I was disappointed to see that that box insert was light plastic (unlabeled) coated with some kind of fuzzy felt, probably making it unrecyclable. Their carry case was also a fuzzy felt and should also have been made from simpler natural materials. They need to improve on both of these things. I deliberated between 4 and 5 green stars because of this, but in the end I decided to give them 5 based on their social mission and overall consideration of how they rank in terms of social and environmental impact compared to the competition. You can read the full review here

Other headphones worth considering

Do you have an experience (negative or positive) with headphones to share? Please add a comment, particularly if you have an opinion on the social or environmental impact of headphones that you’ve tried. I’m happy with my LSTN headphones (I’ve had them for 2 years now) but would probably have moved on to trying one of the other brands on the list had they not worked out: Jamboo,  Symphonized, or Thinksound.

Has anyone from Europe tried Woodbuds?  The Guardian has given this UK company the thumbs up. The housing for their earphones is made using 100% plantation wood (walnut) and they use a blend of bio-plastic to create the cable. The box is 100% recyclable, they are a member of 1% for the Planet and also plant a tree for every 100 products they sell. Furthermore, they are modeled by a man with a hipster beard so they must be good.

Interested in the ethics of electronics? Please check out these posts on cell phones and laptops.

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