In the green world words get thrown around to describe the different attributes of products but what do they mean? It’s easy to get bogged down by the lingo and walk into a shop not really knowing what to expect. So I’ve put together a little glossary of terms which will probably get extended and added to over time to include new terminology I learn as I’m going along!
It’s hard to know whether a product does live up to any one of the below, but my philosophy is that if a company is ethical then wouldn’t it advertise that fact proudly? If you are not sure then it is probably not.
Fair Trade: www.fairtrade.org.uk defines Fair Trade as “better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers.” This means that what you buy with the official Fair Trade logo on will ensure that the producers/packagers/farmers/workers receive a fair price for their product and work in suitable conditions. This is a certification for the people.
Organic: Organic is a word which long pre-dated the green movement, it means something which is “1. relating to or derived from living matter.” However, it now also means: “2. (of food or farming methods) produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial chemicals.” (source) This means that organic produce is made without harmful chemicals and is therefore less harmful, not only to the person eating the product but also those who grow or make the product and the environment in which the product was made. For example, organic cotton is better for the soil in which it is grown which is not doused in pesticides and fertilizers, the people picking the cotton and the animals and creatures which live in the environment it is grown.
But bare in mind that organic is often more expensive simply because the farmer can grow less products because the crops are not artificially augmented or rushed in unnatural conditions.
Cruelty-free: Cruelty-free is a broad term for not doing harm to animals. Vegans often adopt this term as a way of life, stating that all use of animals and their by-products is an abuse of animal rights. You can read more on PETA‘s website.
Of course you can still be cruelty-free without taking the vegan approach, by avoiding products which have been tested on animals or by boycotting poached animal skins and products like ivory.
Vegan: As mentioned above vegan’s are staunchly against animal use of all kinds. This means that they go a step further than vegetarians by avoiding products like eggs and milk as well as not eating meat. Veganism is a way of life, not just an eating habit. (For this reason some people will say they eat a plant-based diet rather than calling themselves vegan if they do not practice other vegan customs such as not wearing leather.)
Sustainable: For something to be sustainable it has got to last. For example, something is not a sustainable practice if it uses all of something which cannot be replaced. Fish products are sometimes labelled as sustainably sourced- in this context it means that they will not take every fish in the area, but they will leave some, usually the young and female fish, in order to repopulate the stock. Sustainable wood products usually work on a replacement method- for each mature tree that is cut down a young tree is planted to replace it. Forests will usually be cut on rotation in order to give the young trees time to grow. On the other hand- removing the forests of Borneo using the slash and burn technique does not give young trees a chance to develop and therefore, if it continues, the whole rainforest will be destroyed and will not be able to regenerate at all.
Recycled: Recycled products are the result of all those recyclable items you put in the recycling bin. So your old Coke can could become a new lamp, your old plastic wrappers may be reformed to make a new top or your glass jars become car windscreens. Each process is different but will often include melting down the product at extremely high temperatures until it becomes it’s purest form and then reforming it into a usable product. In the case of glass this can be an infinite cycle- so always remember to put it in the recycle bin! According to www.recycling-guide.org.uk “Up to 60% of the rubbish that ends up in the dustbin could be recycled.”
Conscious Consumer: A conscious consumer is someone who thinks about what and how they are shopping. For example, a conscious consumer may buy a product made locally as it has used less fuel to be delivered, or they may buy something which is fair trade because they care about the conditions of workers in a factory. If we all became conscious consumers then there would be no more cruelty or un-ethical practices, but it is really not that hard once you start thinking about it. Have a look at my post on challenges you might face when you start your green journey to prepare you when you start to be more conscious.
Eco-friendly: Eco-friendly or environmentally-friendly or earth-friendly all mean the same thing: not being harmful to the planet. This may be by buying organic products or by not using chemicals or by turning off electrical appliances when they’re not in use to save energy. Anything which may cause harm to the planet, eco-systems or the air we breathe is not eco-friendly. Which is why riding a bicycle is infinitely more environmentally friendly than flying in a jumbo jet. Something which is ‘carbon neutral’ will be eco-friendly because it is not releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, however, if it does produce carbon dioxide in the manufacturing or delivery processes a carbon neutral company will offset this with acts such as planting trees which will ‘cancel out’ there carbon impact.
Upcycled: A bit like recycled but instead of melting a product down and completely starting again, something which is upcycled is changed or adapted to make usable in a different way. For example, we have upcycled scaffolding boards to make shelves, upcycled an old watering can to make a planter, cut up an old dress and sewed it into a cushion cover. Upcycling is fun and better than making crafts from scratch with new materials. Kirsty Allsop has really made upcycling popular, try and find her TV show Kirstie’s Fill Your House for Free online if you can.
Non-toxic: This does what it says on the tin. Non-toxic means that the product will not be harmful. Very useful in this age of allergies and reactions. Non-toxic products such as Method cleaning sprays are perfect for cleaning your home without causing harm to the environment, your pets or your family as you are not breathing in or spreading around harmful chemicals.
Ethical: www.businessdictionary.com defines ethical as: “Acting in ways consistent with what society and individuals typically think are good values. Ethical behavior tends to be good for business and involves demonstrating respect for key moral principles that include honesty, fairness, equality, dignity, diversity and individual rights.” Therefore, depending on your own moral compass, ethical can mean all of the above and more. An ethical person is likely to care about what happens to other people, animals and the environment and will strive to uphold these morals when shopping, eating and living.