Lots of people and companies talk about eco friendly this and eco friendly that. What isn’t always clear is what they mean by that. Definitions may vary somewhat by source, but there are a few things I believe eco friendly ought to mean.
In part, the definition depends on what you’re talking about. There are different considerations when you’re talking about food, cleaning supplies, electronics and so forth.
1. Harm to the environment is minimized.
Pretty much everything has some impact on the environment, and some things can’t help but be a little harmful. The most eco friendly things are the ones which harm the least. This means thinking about what you buy, where it comes from, how it’s made, and so forth.
2. Benefit to the environment when possible.
Some eco friendly things you do will benefit the environment overall. Trees can be planted, a refuge for wildlife can be established, waterways can be cleaned. Mostly, the benefit will be in relation to what else you could have done. Cleaning with vinegar, for example, is much more eco friendly than using harsh chemicals, but there’s still some environmental cost. It should be much less than the environmental cost of other cleaning supplies, however.
This one is great for you, your family, and the environment in general. Non-toxic products are kinder to you and the environment. Non-toxic doesn’t always mean completely harmless to everything, of course. Your standard household white vinegar is non-toxic (obviously, you use it in food!), but it can be used to kill weeds in the yard.
4. Organic or sustainably produced.
Organic and sustainably produced products are generally more eco friendly than the alternatives. Non-natural pesticides aren’t used, fertilizers are organic sorts, and in general the impact of production is considered, so that the resources are used in a sustainable manner.
Recycling can be a part of eco friendly products, both in manufacture and how excess is disposed of. A plastic bottle in general isn’t eco friendly, but one made primarily of recycled plastic is considered more eco friendly than one without. Any plastic that you can send for recycling in your area is more eco friendly than plastics that will only end up in the landfill.
This is one area in which the eco friendliness of a product depends in part on you. It doesn’t do the environment any good for you to buy something that could be recycled if you don’t bother to recycle it.
6. Ingredients listed.
When possible a product claiming to be eco friendly should make its ingredients clear. It’s too easy for manufacturers to claim that a product is eco friendly when overall their product is not. Labels allow you to research and find out what’s in a product and if it really is eco friendly or just a greenwashed claim. Don’t trust the pretty pictures on the packaging – find out for sure. You may have to visit the company website if the label isn’t clear on the matter.
7. Use legitimate labels.
There are a lot of meaningless claims that make products sound environmentally friendly when they really aren’t. Make sure you know which labels are legitimate. Some must be verified by third parties. Here are some of the most trusted logos to help you pick eco friendly products:
If the product is making claims not covered by one of these labels, you should read the claims they’re making and how they back them up. It’s easy to make nonspecific claims that sound good but are really meaningless. Be picky about what you trust. “Eco,” “natural,” “biodegradable,” and even “nontoxic” don’t always mean that much and may not be well regulated.