What Does Eco-Friendly Mean? Difference Between Sustainable and Green Products
Good Housekeeping Institute
At the Good Housekeeping Institute, we are passionate about everything sustainable: Our team regularly reviews products for the Green Good Housekeeping Seal, an emblem that has been earned due to its environmental impact, and we recently completed our third annual sustainability summit, “Raise the Green Bar” the start of our very first Sustainable Packaging Awards. When we look at products in our laboratories, we test them for safety, quality, usability and more before we send them to our panel readers to test them at home. This way you know that you can trust our advice and recommendations. We are here to help you decode green claims and make smarter decisions for your home and the environment.
A cheat sheet with “environmentally friendly” terms
“Green” is an “occasional term that people use in exchange for every word related to environmental awareness,” says Dr. Birnur Aral, Director of the Laboratory for Health, Beauty and Environmental Sciences at the GH Institute. “It’s a multi-faceted term, but it generally implies better practices for both the environment and the people involved.” When surveying over 5,000 people from our consumer panel, we found that 65% believed that the word “green” was synonymous with environmentally friendly and environmentally conscious.
“Sustainable” and “sustainability“
“Sustainable” and “sustainability” Can be defined in many ways, but it is generally” the practice to ensure that we do not exhaust natural resources while maintaining a prosperous economy for future generations, “says Aral.” It is believed to have three pillars: people, planet, and profit. For a company, this means that it should be equally important to ensure the prosperity of its employees (and those associated with it) and to minimize or even reverse the environmental impact, such as making a profit, so that it is sustainable in the long term. “
Our environmental experts prefer to use the term “sustainable” rather than environmentally friendly. Why? When it comes to product production, everything has a negative impact on the environment (think about water consumption, energy and product waste, etc.), and that means there really are no products that actually meet the definition of environmentally friendly. Remember, when we call something sustainable, it means that a single attribute is good for the environment – not necessarily everything about the product.
How to recognize (and avoid) greenwashing
Greenwashing is a term used when a company misleads its product packaging with environmentally friendly information (think “environmentally friendly”, “sustainable” or “green”). In most cases, the claims are broad without any support to back them up. According to our environmental experts, here are some examples of misleading claims to watch out for:
- A bottle of detergent is marked as “Free of phosphates.” Ever since phosphates were removed from this type of product decades ago, every reputable detergent manufacturer has already phased out the ingredient. This is considered greenwashing because phosphate-free detergents are already the norm.
- A set of duvets or sheets is labeled “Totally natural.” While the product can be made from plant materials such as bamboo, the raw materials go through a series of manufacturing processes that they change synthetically. This claim is misleading because “completely natural” indicates that the bed linen comes directly from nature. “There is actually no ‘bamboo’ fiber because it’s really rayon,” said Lexie Sachs, director of the Textile Lab at the GH Institute. “The process also includes toxic chemicals that are hazardous to workers, wildlife, and the environment in which they are manufactured.”
- A yoga mat is marked as “biodegradable” or “biodegradable” “recyclable.” Due to landfill conditions, these materials don’t degrade quickly, and you can’t recycle a roadside pickup yoga mat or even take it to a U.S. recycling center. This information is considered greenwashing because it represents an environmental benefit but there is no significant benefit.
- A company displays an environmentally friendly symbol that does not exist. Watch out for fake eco-friendly symbols from brands. Even if a product bears a green logo that says “environmentally friendly”, it means nothing if the company designed it themselves. You can find more examples of misleading environmental statements in the FTC Green Guides.
How to find products that are really environmentally friendly
When it comes to products, there are ways to “make smart and informed decisions before you buy something new,” says Sabina Wizemann, chief chemist at the GH Institute’s Health, Beauty, and Environmental Science laboratory. This is where our rigorous testing comes in – our experts will help you find the products that actually work and are less harmful to the planet. “An effective product is less likely to be thrown away or replaced,” which reduces waste, says Wizemann.
Look for products with established third party emblems such as EcoCert Cosmos for organic cosmetics or Fair Trade certified ingredients. Don’t let products with false emblems and bold claims wash you green: if it sounds too good to be true, it is likely. Below are the logos that you can actually trust. They mean that a certain aspect of the product is environmentally friendly: