On our journey to less waste and cutting down single-use plastic, a lot of terms come up but do we know what they really mean? Here’s the difference between green, eco, sustainable and more.

Sometimes in marketing these terms are interchangeable or misused, so how do we really know what we’re supporting with our purchases? Depending on the region the items or services are from, the words used could have different meanings too. As if that wasn’t complicated enough, some of the environmental jargon we hear has no legal or certified legal definitions. To clarify any confusion, I’ll dig a little deeper.



What is Green, Really?

According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, Green as an adjective “relates to the protection of the environment” and examples include political activists or campaigners. To Go Green is ‘to do more to protect nature or the environment”. Great! This means your friend chatting to you about metal straws could be someone encouraging you to “go green”. It’s also quite open-ended as a description. This could easily be used for businesses to convince the public they are doing better for the world. Technically, a business that isn’t handing out straws anymore- unless requested by a customer- could say that’s an effort to go green. My  advice if you see this term being used, is to do more research on the brand’s claims and even contact them for more information to back it up.




sheenabagshawe.co.za Eco vs Green

….And Eco-Friendly?

Eco-friendly is a slightly more reliable term; “A product that does not harm the environment in its production, use or disposal”. This eco-friendly defnition is according to the website all-recycling-facts.com. This is also used interchangeably with environmentally-friendly. These products will significantly reduce the amount of pollution caused. Can the term be misused? More often than you’d think! Businesses may choose not to label a product ‘ green’ to avoid backlash but speak about their “eco-friendly business journey”

If you’re looking for a list of eco-friendly products available in South Africa, try looking at Eco Atlas.



What’s the difference between green, eco-friendly and sustainable? Sustainability strives to ensure that products do no harm to the environment in production, use or disposal of, as well as “not compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Focus on the future means that environmental, social and economic issues are all included under this one word. It’s quite difficult to produce a truly sustainable product. From the start of the production process to it’s end-life no harm should be done to the environment or others. This makes the standards much higher than green and eco-friendly. Something that does meet the high standard of sustainable is the Kuro-Bo Go-Eco Bottle Brush, from The Refillery. It features biodegradable bristles and recyclable components.



What about Fair Trade versus Ethical?

I only recently discovered that Fair Trade isn’t as all-encompassing as I’d assumed. I was discussing Fair Trade coffee and someone working in the coffee industry helped me correct my way of thinking. The focus here is more on producers and workers.

Fair Trade items need a logo to show that they are certified with the Fair Trade International, World Fair Trade Organisation, The Fair Trade Foundation and People Tree Ltd. “Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions and securing the rights of marginalized producers and workers” taken from the WFTO website.

This movement started in 1989 and started with the coffee, cocoa and tea industries. As of October 2018, over 965,700 have been positively impacted by the WFTO and the industries now include food, fashion, beauty and homeware products.

Ethical speaks to good working conditions and wages for workers in textile, toy, fashion and food manufacturing. Unlike Fair Trade there is no precise or legal definition for ethical, so it’s quite broad. It can be useful when engaging with lifestyle brands and trying to find out if their ethics align with yours.



Non-Toxic is a term that can easily be confused with clean. Clean refers to both natural and synthetic ingredients that are not harmful to one’s health. Non-toxic includes no substances that are harmful human health or the environment at large. Again, these two terms don’t have legal definitions but there are bodies and organisations that provide certification like the ToxicFree Foundation, based in the US.


What’s Greenwashing?

We’ve gone through Green vs Eco-friendly, learned about how Sustainable is the best case scenario for products or services. We know fair trade from our ethical, and what clean and non-toxic mean. When it comes to the misuse of these important terms there is a brilliant word: Greenwashing.

Greenwashing is the practice of purposefully misleading consumers or the public into thinking that a product is better for nature or the environment, as well as more ethical than it is. As you can imagine this is hugely problematic. The onus of the climate crisis should not fall on consumers alone. It’s time for large scale corporates to take responsibility for their role in this crisis.

I truly hope that this can help you make the best choices possible for your lifestyle, pocket and the planet. If you have any topics you’d like to know more about, drop me a comment below!