In today’s vocabulary, ‘eco-friendly’ has become a much said and discussed term. There are environmental organizations urging people to go eco-friendly. Brands are bringing out eco-friendly products of all kinds. There are eco-friendly goods, eco-friendly lifestyle practices, eating habits, eco-friendly manufacturing techniques, and the list goes on.
Given that everyone is stressing about going ‘eco-friendly’, we must pause and think if we know what eco-friendly means in the broad sense of the term. We may know its implications, the do’s and don’ts, but do we know about its meaning.
In this article, let us delve into the meaning of eco-friendly and some ways to imbibe this term into our lives.
What is eco-friendly?
Merriam-Webster states the meaning of eco-friendly as ‘not environmentally harmful.’ In other words, it may be anything that does not have a negative impact on the environment and the planet.
It is essential to understand this meaning completely as nowadays many companies and brands pretend to be eco-friendly but are the opposite. Hence, it is important to be vigilant.
If we talk about eco-friendly consumer goods, it means that right from the manufacturing process to the packaging and transportation, they should not harm the environment in any way. The FTC green guides state that a product can be labelled eco-friendly only when its packaging explains environmentally responsible. If this is not done, then it cannot be called eco-friendly. Also, an eco-friendly product should have instructions regarding how to use and discard it.
Other words for ‘eco-friendly’
The word eco-friendly or environment friendly has other synonyms too that differ slightly but generally mean the same. These words are earth-friendly, sustainable, and so on.
We often hear of the going green campaign, with people opting for environmentally healthy lifestyle choices. Going green is an informal term that people relate to being environmentally conscious. It is a multilayered word however involves both environment and the communities. A survey has shown that most people think that ‘going green’ means being ‘eco-friendly’.
Next are the terms’ sustainable’ and ‘sustainability, which can be defined in many ways. The most popular connotation of the term translates to saving our non-renewable natural resources such as fossil fuels, freshwater, minerals, oil, etc. Sustainable living and practices mean tapping the renewable energy of the sun, water, wind, etc., to fulfil human needs and requirements.
There has been a significant shift to sustainable practices in recent decades, with people going for solar panels at home and industries to generate power. Electric vehicles have become popular in the West, windmills and wind farms are being established in many western countries. Thus, sustainability is becoming the order of the day. Though much change needs to be brought in, these are welcome steps.
Sustainability is thought to have three pillars: people, planet, and profit. For businesses that claim to produce sustainable products and services, this means taking into consideration that the products have a low environmental impact and are also not harmful to human health. Profit is important, so the latest eco-friendly technologies and marketing strategies are being tested by companies to ensure maximum gains and eliminate environmental harm.
Difference between sustainable and eco-friendly
However, we may ask why environmental experts prefer using the term sustainable instead of ‘eco-friendly’. If we talk about the manufacturing process, every product has some negative environmental impact due to water usage, carbon emissions, deforestation, or pollution.
So, these products cannot be labelled as ‘eco-friendly; in the true sense of the term. Hence, they are referred to as sustainable products, which means that they have a low impact on the environment compared to conventional products. It means that one of the qualities of the product makes it stand out, makes it sustainable while on the whole, it is not completely environment friendly.
What is greenwashing?
There is a term called ‘Greenwashing’, used when a brand falsely claims to be sustainable or environmentally friendly, but in actuality, it is not. Most times, it is the way the packaging is done. The packaging boasts big claims that cannot be backed up.
For instance, if a particular laundry detergent brand claims its detergent to be sustainable and the labelling reads ‘phosphate free’, then it is greenwashing. This is because phosphates had already been ruled out many years ago, and any responsible manufacturer would have already stopped their use. Thus, phosphate-free detergents are a norm and not a novelty.
Another example is a bed sheet or a bed cover with a label that reads ‘100% natural’. While the product might be made of plant-based fibres such as bamboo or organic cotton, it cannot be entirely natural since the natural fibres go through a manufacturing process involving using chemicals and dyes that are harmful to the environment and wildlife too. Also, there is no such thing as bamboo fibre, and it is rayon.
Lastly, take an example of a yoga mat that is labelled as “biodegradable” or “recyclable.” These labels are an example of greenwashing as they state the product as environment-friendly, to urge the people to buy it, but it has no environmental advantages. Once these mats are discarded, they lie in heaps in the landfills, and you cannot recycle a yoga mat with curbside pickup or take it to a U.S recycling plant.,
While understanding the meaning of eco-friendly is crucial, simply knowing it is not enough because brands can easily fool us with their greenwashing techniques. A brand puts an environmentally-friendly symbol that doesn’t exist. Hence, it is also equally important to pick out the common greenwashing ways these companies use to fool and attract more customers.
We must watch out for fake logos they create by themselves, as in most cases, these mean nothing. Do your research about the brand, and you will find out if it truly is sustainable or not. You can check out more misleading environmental claims on the FTC guides.
Such genuine sustainable products don’t print eco-friendly logos but have third-party emblems like EcoCert Cosmos for organic cosmetics or Fair Trade Certified ingredients.
The stakeholders are responsible, but the buyers also should be mindful of their purchasing habits. Most of us shop not based on what we need but often hoard things and buy cute stuff that we do not require.
Buy what you need
If we buy fewer goods, only those we truly need, we can lessen the environmental impact as these goods take up resources and energy in their production. This way, the brands would automatically stop mass production. Hence, this is the time to introspect and change unhealthy shopping habits.
Go for second-hand textiles
The best way of going eco-friendly is by reusing goods. For instance, you can recycle a shirt or any other clothing by transforming it into something else. You can make handkerchiefs or table cloth from them. Even if a cloth is made naturally and is sustainable, giving it a new function saves money, as it is truly eco-friendly.
Choose reusable stuff
Always carry your cloth bag when you go shopping to avoid plastic ones. Some brands have come with novel ideas like reusable sandwich bags, beeswax food wraps that can replace thousands of single-use plastic bags that pollute the environment, the land, and oceans.
Even plastic cutlery should be avoided. Not only is it harmful and compromises food quality, but it also leads to enormous garbage generation. Since most fast-food joints still use plastic cutlery, the authorities should put a check on them. These practices are common in developing countries, so necessary directions should be adopted.
Even if you need to buy something, go for goods made of reusable material and sustainable fibres such as Tencel and organic cotton. Tencel uses chemicals that are less harmful and wasteful than fibres like nylon or rayon. Also, organic cotton is less water-consumptive compared to traditional cotton.
Opt for natural cleaners
When buying cleaning products, one should opt for sustainable ones that do not contain chemicals and are non-toxic, having EPA Safer Choice certifications. Most sustainable companies have brought out plant-based cleaners that are free from toxins and are natural. Go for these and also check the list of ingredients before buying to be sure. This would also ensure transparency between the producers and the buyers too. In the long run, sustainable products and brands would be the ones making a maximum profit too.
Secondly, go for concentrated cleaning products that can be diluted with water in reusable containers such as Brandless Cleaning Concentrates. This habit would save money as you would not need to buy these goods often and secondly it is beneficial for the environment and limits waste generation.
Go for items with minimum packing
One should try to avoid goods and food items from eateries and brands that go for fancy, double packing to attract customers. This packing may be pleasing to the eye, but it is harmful to the environment. Also, this packing is usually plastic that is already an issue. Seek products with natural and minimum packing, such as those using reusable paper or cardboard.
There are eco-friendly packing materials available, but it is not very popular because, unlike plastic, it is expensive. For instance, instead of shower gels laden with chemicals, herbal soaps can be used as well. They can be completely used and come in biodegradable packing.
We live in a society where things are valued only until they are in trend. This means goods are discarded even when they are usable. We have to go for waste management to prevent our planet from becoming a garbage dump. Even space is now being littered with waste. It is high time that we bring about positive change.
We should give the products we no longer need to the poor or send them to recycling units and also practice composting at home to use our kitchen waste as manure for our house plants.
Save Energy and electricity
We should try to save as much electricity as possible and remember to turn off electrical appliances when they are not in use. One should not keep them on standby mode too, as this also consumes some electricity.
Most people in the West are also opting for heat pumps, solar panels, wind turbines that are sustainable to produce electricity. While this is not an option for developing countries, international organizations and western nations should invest in poor countries to bring these sustainable options to their footsteps.
Plant more trees
Deforestation is a primary environmental concern as most products, cosmetics or clothing, are derived from tree parts. Tree felling needs to be regulated, for forests control our planet’s temperature and climate conditions and bring about rain. So trees should be cut in ethically managed woodlands, and timber goods should be given certification as that provided by the FSC.
Go for local produce
Instead of buying from big brands and well-established grocery brands, you can help the planet and your community by buying vegetables and fruits from the local farmers. In this way, you can support the local economy too.
We have always heard this slogan right from our childhood. However, with the freshwater resources depleting rapidly, the water crisis is a serious environmental concern that needs to be tackled. Wasteful use should be avoided, and we should save as much water as possible.
Eco-friendly is anything and everything beneficial and not harmful for the planet. It may not be possible for us to become 100% eco-friendly suddenly, but we should do our part and change as much of our unhealthy habits as possible. If everyone decided to become eco-friendly, then most of the environmental issues would be easily mitigated.