Sustainable, responsible, eco-friendly… what does it really mean?

Feeling overwhelmed and slightly confused when navigating through terms like eco-friendly, sustainable and responsible? You’re not alone. Let’s dive into some commonly used terms and their definitions, differences and certifications.

What is sustainability

Sustainability involves ensuring that we can maintain our current way of living without compromising the ability of future generations to do the same. It encompasses three key components:  

  • Environmental sustainability: taking care of nature, like trees, water, and animals, so they stay healthy for the future. It involves things like reducing pollution, protecting wildlife, and using resources like water and energy wisely so we don’t run out. 
  • Social sustainability: This is about making sure everyone in society can live healthy, safe, and fair lives. It includes things like access to education, healthcare, housing, and fair job opportunities for all people, regardless of their background or where they live. 
  • Economic sustainability: This involves managing finances and resources to foster long-term prosperity for communities and businesses alike. It necessitates a careful balance ensuring resources are not depleted too hastily, and that economic growth does not compromise the well-being of the environment or people. 

So, sustainability is all about finding a balance between taking care of our planet, ensuring fairness and safety for everyone, and managing our resources wisely for the benefit of both present and future generations. 

Sustainability certifications

Some examples of sustainability certifications:

  • Certified B Corporation: overall businesses certification that display high standards of social and environmental behavior.
  • 1% for the Planet: a global sustainability certification for companies, organizations, and individuals to give back 1% of their sales profits to help the planet.
  • ZDHC: certification for sustainable chemical management within the fashion industry
  • Forest Stewardship Council (FSC): Certification for responsibly sourced wood and wood products, ensuring sustainable forestry practices.

What does ‘environmentally-friendly’ mean?

Environmentally friendly or eco-friendly refers to products, practices, or actions with minimal or no negative impact on the environment. While closely related to environmental sustainability, it tends to be more specific, often concentrating on individual actions or products rather than overarching systems or strategies.  

For example, using biodegradable cleaning products, driving an electric car, or recycling are considered environmentally friendly because they reduce pollution, conserve resources, or minimize waste. 

Eco-friendly certifications

Whereas sustainability certifications say something about the way business is being conducted overall (economical, environmental and social), eco-friendly certifications are more connected to a product. Some examples:
  • Cradle to Cradle (C2C): This certification evaluates products based on their environmental and social performance throughout their life cycle.
  • Energy Star: A certification for energy-efficient products, focusing on reduced energy consumption.
  • OEKO TEX: Products that achieve the Standard 100 OEKO-TEXÒ label are guaranteed to be free from all harmful substances that could affect human and ecological health

What is the difference between eco-friendly and environmental sustainability?

Eco-friendly refers to products or actions that are not harmful to the environment. Environmental sustainability is a broader concept that includes not just individual actions but also entire systems and practices to ensure the long-term health of the environment. It involves assessing the impact of various activities and finding ways to maintain ecological balance and protect natural resources for the future.

In summary, while both terms relate to caring for the environment, “environmentally friendly” tends to focus on specific actions or products, whereas environmental sustainability encompasses broader goals and strategies aimed at maintaining environmental health over the long term. 

 

What does it mean when a company or product is ‘responsible’?

When a company or product is described as “responsible,” it typically means that they prioritize ethical, sustainable, and socially conscious practices throughout their operations. “Responsible” covers being sustainable and takes it a bit further, taking into account corporate governance and high ethical standards in business dealing as well. 

Responsible companies have effective corporate governance structures in place to ensure accountability, transparency, and responsible decision-making at all levels of the organization. 

 

Sustainability

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