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Eco-friendly terminology: a cheat sheet of green words

Sustainable shopping can make a real change for the environment. But when you're just starting out, it might be overwhelming to grasp the meaning of all the eco terms thrown around. 

There are so many eco words we see on the product labels and packaging. Eco, sustainable, organic, vegan, cruelty-free, zero-waste - they all imply green practices. But does it really mean that every single product that has one of these labels is not harmful to nature? Not exactly. Let's make sense of all of it at once with this short glossary for the most commonly used eco-friendly terms. After reading it, you should be able to read behind the product tags and evaluate each brand’s ethics yourself.

Eco-friendly cheat sheet

Organic

Organic means that a product is produced, or more precisely grown without using prohibited chemicals like synthetic fertilisers, pesticides or other harmful substances. Generally, organic industry is based on organic farming that aims to deliver the best natural quality of goods by the means of eco-friendly practices. The true organic products can only be labelled so if they’re grown on healthy, chemical-free soil. That is why the whole industry is supported and also strictly controlled by the DEFRA (The Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs), so you can be sure, the term doesn’t get misused. Organic certification can be applied to all kinds of products including food, clothing and makeup. So when you buy organic vegetables or a shirt made of 100% organic cotton, you contribute to the eco-conscious change in the global production order.

Green vs eco-friendly

These two words are frequently seen on the product packaging. It seems like they have a similar meaning, but it turns out that not so much. “Green” is a broad, casual term related to every practice that is somehow beneficial for the environment and the people. “Eco” in the core of its definition is more specific - it means “not harmful to the environment”. Yet, none of these two words really imply that a good is produced with nature in mind. For this, we need to use another term. Let’s jump to the next paragraph.

Sustainable

When a product is labelled sustainable it means that it is produced in a balanced way, without negative impact on the natural resources of current and future generations. In other words, if a tree is chopped down to make a table, another is planted to replace it. Sustainable brands are not compromising the environment for profit and are trying to minimise devastating effects on the local and global scale. But we should understand that it’s pretty much impossible to create a product without any kind of negative impact on the Earth and that “sustainability” can be very limited, to the extent that it touches just one element in the production cycle.

At moincoins, we use the term “sustainable” when it comes to the decisions we make as humans. We’re all about sustainability in shopping, that is why we created an eco category where we highlight the best eco-friendly deals from the green brands.

Fairtrade

Most probably you’ve just thought of coffee, didn’t you? You weren’t wrong, but there’s a little more to that. Years ago, fairtrade started with coffee, but now you can find this easy-to-recognise blue and green mark on all kinds of products including fruits and cotton. In principle, fairtrade is about better standards of working conditions, prices, local sustainability, decent salaries and fair trade terms. Don’t confuse “fairtrade” (one word) with “fair trade” (two words). The second one is also a popular term, but it's not protected, meaning that anyone can use it.

Ethical vs ethical shopping vs fairtrade

The word “ethical” has a philosophical background, it presumes that a product is produced and purchased with respect both for the employees and the Planet. It’s also about the decency of human behaviour and moral principles. But if we take “ethical shopping”, for example, this can be defined as a practice of purchasing goods that aims to minimise the negative impact on the society and environment in the understanding of this one particular person. It’s hard to globalise this definition since one’s moral principles can differ. Fairtrade is to some extent ethical because it imposes fair standards, but let's frank, it’s more of a certification in the end. In short, ethical is a state of mind, a brand can be ethical but not fairtrade certified.

Zero waste

The concept of zero waste goes beyond recycling or reusing. It touches many processes - starting with production, through consumption to the disposal later on. To reduce the amount of waste that goes to landfills, most products need to be fully redesigned, considering packaging and other materials that will be discarded after usage. Zero waste sounds a bit impossible to you, right? We know we live in a world full of packaging, but there are many companies that are working towards zero-waste production, e.g. Subaru, Toyota, Google. You can also find many zero-waste shops in the UK, check this extensive list at Pebble Magazine to find the closest one to you. The most important is this - to embrace the idea of zero waste living both brands and consumers need to radically change their waste habits - eliminate, reduce, reuse, compost, recycle as much as possible.

Vegan vs cruelty-free

Vegan means that the product you’re holding does not contain any animal or animal-derived ingredients. Cruelty-free signifies that no animal testing was done at any stage of production. Many companies indeed don’t test their products on animals, but the ingredients they use can be everything, but not cruelty-free certified. Keep one thing in mind, vegan doesn’t necessarily mean cruelty-free. Always check the ingredients and if you have trouble understanding those, look for the app that will scan the product label for any harmful substances, there are plenty of those available nowadays.

How to shop more sustainably?

Sustainable shopping is gaining in popularity in recent years, given the increasing awareness of the negative impact mass production has on the environment. What we should understand is that the responsibility lies not only with the brands but first of all with us consumers, because we're "guilty" of buying all those amazing products. We don’t say you need to stop shopping or immediately switch to eco-friendly brands, no. Start with the small things, for example on your next grocery shopping choose to pack things in the eco-friendly shopping bag. Think what else you can easily change in your everyday life, maybe you don’t need that new polyester-made top, or maybe you can pack your lunch in a beeswax wrap instead of a plastic bag. We at moincoins will support your green efforts by providing you with a vast selection of eco-friendly deals from those sustainable brands you like.

If you’re already on your path to becoming an environmentally responsible shopper, just make sure you do your own research, know the meaning behind eco terminology and choose to shop, save and clear your karma.