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What do green terms mean?

What does eco-friendly mean? What is a sustainable product? A variety of new terms are appearing in the fast growing green economy to describe and identify products that are better for our planet. However there is a lot of uncertainty around what these terms actually mean and the differences between them. We have listed the most common terms you are likely to come across with a brief explanation of what they mean. Some are easier to explain than others but it will give you a better idea of what to look out for and what to expect. We hope this list helps!


No longer just a colour, green has long been associated with something that has a positive impact on the environment. It is a broader and more casual expression than “eco-friendly” and it could refer to just one part of the product process. A product that uses recycled packaging could be described as green but it does not guarantee that it was created making the best use of materials, energy, transport… To be clear, no product is 100% green! In general, a green product is less damaging to the environment but the question is how and by how much?

Eco friendly

Dictionary definitions of “eco-friendly” typically define it as something that is not harmful to the environment.  This is a very broad definition and difficult to gauge. To provide clarity, brands need to be transparent and provide evidence of their claims when offering and marketing “eco-friendly” products. One way to do this is to show certifications about the product, its production and overall business process.


Sustainable is a more defined term and therefore easier to measure and quantify. As described by the UN, sustainability means: “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. A product that is sustainable is committed to its lifecycle process and considers its impact on the environment. The lifecycle process normally includes: production, supply management, waste planning, the ethical practice of the business with a focus on supporting and benefiting its employees and related communities.


Many products claim to be organic but what does organic actually mean? Organic is a certifiable term and the product therefore needs to adhere to specific regulations in a variety of categories. To help your fact checking see this page for more detailed info. In short, something organic will not contain or use ingredients/products that may be harmful to people or the environment. A variety of products can be classified organic from clothing to cosmetics. For example an organic piece of clothing is made using materials free from pesticides and artificial fertilisers, an organic beauty product will not include synthetic chemicals or ingredients.



The term Conscious is a more recent term used to describe levels of environmental and/or ethical awareness in consumers or businesses. Conscious consumers have high standards about products they consume and like to understand the production process and lifecycle of the product. They will do a certain level of research and have preferences of brands based on their environmental promises of sustainability and life value. It is a lifestyle choice and behaviour which embraces all aspects of life. An Environmentally Conscious business takes into consideration its impact on the environment through its business lifecycle.


Term used to describe the practise of misleading consumers in believing a brand, product and business follows environmental standards and processes. These claims are often spread through false advertising and marketing strategies and are not based on truthful claims and business transparency. For a quick check, users can look for green certifications or look for explanations of the brand’s production lifecycle. Brands like to capitalise on environmentally friendly ideas and make false claims, some examples could be: claiming a product is more natural, healthier, free of chemicals, recyclable or using natural resources more efficiently. Although some of these may be true, they may disguise or distract from other negative aspects of the product.


Ethically produced products are not harmful to the environment and society. In recent times it refers to the working conditions of workers in particular and how much they are paid. Various companies who measure sustainability take ethical issues into consideration when assessing a product or a business. Examples of these are: Good on You, Ethical Consumer, B Corporation.

Circular economy

Circular economy is an alternative to the traditional linear economy model of: take, make and dispose. Its goal is to reduce or eliminate waste and make the best of our resources promoting its continual use. As described in the Ellen MacArthur Foundation website:  It’s a new way to design, make, and use things within planetary boundaries.The new loop system is based on: reusing, sharing, repairing, refurbishing, remanufacturing and recycling to ultimately reduce the amount of resources used, avoid creating waste and carbon emissions.

Carbon Footprint

Carbon Footprint is the total amount of carbon dioxide produced during the lifecycle of a product, directly or indirectly. It is difficult to assess and calculate the full extent of this process due to poor data and complexity of processes involved.

Carbon neutral

Carbon neutrality is achieving a balance between the amount of carbon emitted and carbon absorbed. Some businesses undergo a practice of carbon offsetting which compensates the carbon emitted in one sector by investing in another sector which will contribute to the absorption of carbon dioxide. Some examples of these contributions are investments in: renewable energy, energy efficiency or other low-carbon technologies.

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