With all the terminology you see and hear about, it’s hard to know the difference between them all. This super handy guide to all the eco friendly terms will help you make sense of which ones actually mean something.
Marketers throw these terms around and combine them so much so there is quite a bit of confusion about what they actually mean. I’m often asked what exactly eco friendly means?
None of the eco friendly terms I’m talking about here actually are regulated.
For example, natural or green are broad terms but there’s no requirement to prove a product is such, there’s no third-party verification.
Essentially, when a product is third-party verified, the manufacturer’s claims are investigated by an independent institution or non-profit organization that verifies the claims are true. Check out a host of third-party verified eco labels here.
Many of these terms are simply an effort for companies to make consumers believe the company is doing their part for the environment but they actually aren’t. This is greenwashing.
So what specifically is greenwashing and what the heck do all these eco friendly terms mean?
What is Greenwashing?
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, greenwashing is a tactic used “to make people believe that your company is doing more to protect the environment than it really is“.
Pretty shady, eh? I think corporate America knows the money is in the environmental spin at this point in time and they want to capitalize on the trend.
If companies are truly doing their part and thinking about the product lifecycle in a circular fashion, that’s awesome and well, honestly, why shouldn’t they be?
If they are donating to environmental charities and touting that but dumping toxic waste into our water streams, that’s a problem.
Let’s dig in!
The Most Vague Eco Friendly Term
What does it mean to be Green
The term green is super generic. In fact, if you type ‘green living’ into any search engine, the top results center around the actual color green.
According to the Global Ecolabelling Network, ‘living green means making lifestyle decisions and engaging in practices which reduce negative impact on and promote the health of the planet and its creatures‘.
This is the basic idea we follow in our house and I follow for my blog.
Most people associate the word green with better for the environment and humans. Corporations use the term green as a marketing ploy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting all corporations do this, I simply cite it as an example so when you see that word on a product package, your radar should go up.
Dictionary.com defines eco friendly as not harmful to the environment.
When we talk about products, eco friendly indicates everything needs to be safe for the environment. That means all the components and processes from production to packaging and everything in between.
Because the term is not regulated and any product can claim to be eco friendly, you can see how there would be a lot of gray area here.
I’ll be the first person to admit, I think of our household as eco friendly however, we are not perfect and some things we do or purchases we make are probably harmful to the environment.
What’s the difference between eco friendly and environmentally friendly?
Really, there is no difference. Eco friendly, environmentally friendly and earth friendly all mean not harmful to the earth.
The term minimalist seems to have been captured under the umbrella of ‘green living’ however, it truly just means to live with less stuff. More experiences and fewer tangible items.
The items can still be full of chemicals and bad for the environment, a minimalist just uses less of them.
Don’t get me wrong, being described as a minimalist is better for the environment than being a hoarder but when I think of eco friendly living, I don’t really think about minimalism.
Non-toxic is an adjective used to describe a product. It means the product is free from ingredients that can harm health or the environment.
The devil is in the details here, product ingredient lists can be chock full of confusion. That’s why I use the Environmental Working Group’s Healthy Living app.
For instance, the term fragrance appears on millions of product labels but did you know it’s a catch all term for over 3000 different compounds that don’t have to be disclosed because the FDA doesn’t require it?
Sustainable is an adjective meaning to be maintained at a certain level.
In the context of the environment, sustainable is a more precise term that means to use resources in such a way as not to permanently damage or use them all up.
For example, looking at the process of producing a product. Is a great deal of energy or resource required to produce and ship the product to the consumer?
Are the actual components made from recycled materials or do they come from a renewable resource?
What happens when the consumer is finished with it? Is there a way to recycle or reuse it or does it wind up in a landfill?
Companies need to begin with the end in mind. I was fascinated by the concept of a circular economy by The Ellen MacArthur Foundation.
What’s the difference between sustainable and eco friendly?
Eco friendly means nothing is being used that will harm the environment while sustainable means one can manage without harm or depletion of resources.
In my opinion, if a product makes claims, I expect it to mean something and be truthful.
With a lifestyle, we all live on say a scale of 1 to 10. No matter where we are now, we are striving to get to a 10.