What Does Eco-Friendly Mean? Difference Between Sustainable and Green Products

What Does Eco-Friendly Mean? The term “eco-friendly” is often used – you see it on labels for everything from sandwich bags to sheet sets. Since it is used so often, it can be difficult to understand the importance of eco-friendly lifestyles and products. And if you’re not sure what the word really means, there’s a greater risk of being misled by companies that claim to be environmentally aware.

According to Merriam Webster, the official definition of environmentally friendly is: “not harmful to the environment”. As far as products are concerned, this means that everything from production to packaging must be safe for the environment. But here’s where it gets tricky: the FTC’s green guides say that for a product to be properly labeled as eco-friendly, the packaging must explain why it is eco-friendly. Otherwise, it might not even be safe for the environment depending on how consumers actually use the product. These misleading trade claims are often called “greenwashing” (read on to find out more about this).

 

What Does Eco-Friendly Mean?
What Does Eco-Friendly Mean? Juj Winn Getty Images

Raise Sustainability Summit

We are passionate about all that is sustainable at the Good Housekeeping Institute: our team regularly evaluates products for the Green Good Housekeeping seal, an emblem won based on its environmental impact, and we recently completed our third annual Raise Sustainability Summit the Green Bar and the launch of our first sustainable packaging prices. When we review products in our labs, we assess them for safety, quality, ease of use, and more before we send them to our panel readers for testing at home – that’s how you know you can trust our advice and recommendations. We are here to help you decode ecological claims to make smarter decisions for your household and the environment.

A cheat sheet of “environmentally friendly” terms

“Environmentally friendly”, “environment friendly” and “new friend” are just other words for “not harmful to the environment”.

“Green” is a “laid back term that people use in exchange for any word related to eco-awareness,” says Birnur Aral, Ph.D., director of the Health Institute, Health and Beauty Sciences Lab at the GH Institute. “It is a multifaceted term, but it generally implies best practices for both the environment and the people involved.” When we interviewed more than 5,000 people from our consumer panel, we found that 65% think the word “green” is synonymous with eco-friendly and eco-friendly.

“Sustainable” and “durability“can be defined in many ways, but it is generally” the practice of ensuring that we do not deplete natural resources while maintaining a prosperous economy for future generations, “says Aral.” It is believed to have three pillars: people, the planet and profit. For a company, this means that it is as important to guarantee the wealth of employees (and people linked to this company) and minimize or even reverse its environmental impacts, as to make a profit so that it is sustainable long-term. “

Our environmental experts prefer to use the term “sustainable” rather than ecological. Why? Regarding the production of products, everything has a kind of negative impact on the environment (think: water consumption, energy and waste products, etc.), and this means that there is no There are really no products that really meet the definition of the environment. Keep in mind that when we call something sustainable, it means that one attribute is good for the environment – not necessarily all on the product.

How to spot (and avoid) greenwashing

Greenwashing is a term used for when a company misleads ecological claims (think “environmentally friendly”, “sustainable” or “green”) on the packaging of its products. In most cases, these are general claims with no support to support them. Here are some examples of misleading statements to watch out for, according to our environmental experts:

  • A bottle of laundry detergent is labelled “Without phosphates.” Since phosphates were removed from this type of product decades ago, any reputable detergent manufacturer has already phased out the ingredient. This is considered greenwashing because phosphate-free laundry detergents are already the norm.
  • A duvet or sheet set is labelled “all-natural.” Although the product can be made from plant-based materials like bamboo, raw materials go through a series of manufacturing processes that modify them synthetically. This statement is misleading because “all natural” suggests that the bedding came straight from nature. “In reality, the fibre of” bamboo “does not exist, because it is really rayon,” explains Lexie Sachs, director of the Textile Lab of the GH Institute. “In addition, the process involves toxic chemicals that are harmful to workers, wildlife and the environment in which it is produced.”
  • A yoga mat is labeled “biodegradable” or “recyclable”. Due to conditions at landfills, these materials do not quickly decompose and you cannot recycle a curbside yoga mat or even take them to an American recycling center. These claims are considered “greenwashing” because they indicate an environmental benefit, but no significant benefit exists.
  • A company displays an ecological symbol that does not exist. Beware of false ecological symbols created by brands. Even if a product has a green logo that says “eco-friendly”, it means nothing if the company designed it itself. You can find more examples of misleading environmental claims in the FTC Green Guides.

How to find products that are really respectful of nature

When it comes to products, there are ways to “make smart, informed decisions before you buy something new,” says Sabina Wizemann, senior chemist at the Health Institute, Health and Beauty and Environmental Sciences Lab at the GH Institute. This is where our rigorous testing comes in – our experts help you find the products that really work and are less harmful to the planet. “An efficient product is less likely to be thrown away or replaced,” which reduces waste, says Wizemann.

Look for products with established third party emblems like EcoCert Cosmos for organic cosmetics or certified fair trade ingredients. Don’t get whitewashed by products with fake emblems and bold claims: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Here are the logos you can really trust. They mean that a certain aspect of the product is environmentally friendly:

Eco Friendly Logos
Eco Friendly Logos

A guide to shopping smart and sustainably

Be aware of the amount you are buying. Above all, buy only what you need. A product requires a lot of energy and resources before it even enters your home. If you buy fewer products, you will reduce the impact on the environment through less demand for its production process. If you find yourself filling up on barely used products, it’s time to reassess.

Buy second-hand textiles. For clothing and bedding products, the best way to live sustainably is to reuse the products. “Whether you share clothes with friends or buy from a site like eBay or ThredUp, giving new life to a piece of clothing is more environmentally friendly than creating something new,” says Sachs. This is always true even if an item contains recycled or natural fibers, due to the amount of energy and water required in the textile production process. “

Choose reusable items. Remember to bring reusable bags for products and pantry items when shopping to reduce plastic waste. The move to reusable sandwich bags (our favorites are made by Stasher) and beeswax food packaging will help replace hundreds of single-use plastic bags that would end up in landfills and the oceans. You can even be aware of your effect on the environment with your espresso and single-use coffee: Nespresso has taken a step in the right direction by manufacturing fully recyclable capsules.

If you have to buy new, buy recycled. When shopping, look for sustainable fibers like Tencel and organic cotton. Tencel uses chemicals that are less toxic and less wasteful than those of similar fibers (such as rayon), while organic cotton uses less water than conventional cultivation methods, says Sachs. And avoid “bamboo” fiber at all costs.

Use herbal cleansers. “Look for products that contain safer ingredients, like herbal cleansers and EPA Safer Choice certified ones,” said Carolyn Forte, director of the GH Institute’s home care and cleaning laboratory. Although ingredient transparency is not yet required by law, more and more companies (such as Seventh Generation) are choosing to list all of the ingredients in a product. This encourages businesses to use more renewable resources that are better for the environment. In addition, people just like to know what the ingredients of their products are and where they come from.

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Choose concentrated cleaning and health products. The best option for the environment is to clean concentrates that you can dilute with water in reusable containers, such as unbranded cleaning concentrates. Forte says this helps to remove excess packaging and waste.

Look for minimal packaging. Avoid products with secondary packaging and films. Instead, look for items with minimal packaging made from recycled materials (such as cardboard and aluminum instead of plastic). For example, bar soaps are usually a great option as they often have little packaging and can be used up completely. There are even toys (like the Green Toys fire truck) that are packed with durable materials. To learn more about why we chose the products below, check out our prices for sustainable packaging.

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