Green, Ethical, Eco, OH MY - Learning Labels

Sick of greenwashing?  Well, knowing what all the different terms and labels mean is key to avoiding being caught out by misleading advertising and slick marketing campaigns.  I cannot believe I have never done a proper guide on all these words before, but it is high time I finally did!

There are a lot of terms thrown around here on The ecoLogical, on social media, and on labels, so I thought today I would take some time to clarify what *I* understand and mean by these words and phrases since almost none of them are actually regulated.  I firmly believe that having a clear and specific set of definitions is vital for the green and ethical community, as so many of the terms we use are seen as flexible and have no rules about usage in branding.  I wish they were more strictly overseen, and I truly think they need to be, but for now I am taking responsibility for how I use language...

So I am sharing my definitions of all the commonly used labels I see and hear in hopes that we can all start to have some consistency in how we understand and use these phrases!

Understanding Eco Ethical Labels - What Does it Mean?


Eco Friendly: vague and expansive, eco friendly is commonly seen in marketing without any regard for the actual meaning.  To me, eco friendly means the product is safe for people and planet on all levels, from production to the finished item.  The materials used are not toxic and pose no threat to health, and the manufacturing process does not produce any harmful effects either - it does not contribute to deforestation, chemical dumping, microplastic pollution, or destruction of habitats.


Sustainable: slightly more specific than eco friendly, sustainable to me means that the creation of the product does not cause long (or short) term detriment to the earth.  For something to be sustainable, the raw materials must be used in such a way that they will be protected and maintained for future generations.  It involves sourcing and creating responsibly.


Natural: the components of the product are from nature rather than synthetic.  This means ingredients and resources are sourced from the planet rather than made in a lab.


Green: honestly this is a widely used term that just does not have an easily set definition.  For me living green means living in a way that reduces your personal negative impact on the planet.  This involves selecting products with less plastic, fewer toxic ingredients, and that are more sustainable.


Clean: same as green, clean is a common term used online and in marketing that just doesn't have an easily defined meaning.  I see this as an extension of 'green' living, with all the aspects of reducing your personal impact but with the added awareness of how those choices affect your health as well.  This means opting for healthier alternatives that contain low (or no) synthetics or processed ingredients.


Fairtrade: one of the more regulated terms, fairtrade is all about providing "better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world."  This is a global movement that works in partnership with farmers and producers, and it helps make a difference to local communities.


Greenwashing - The Importance of Labels


Vegan: no animal products used whatsoever - this includes leather, wool, fur, horn, hoof, honey, dairy, etc.  It's that simple!


Cruelty Free: don't just trust the label.  There are lots of "cruelty free" logos, but only one is reliable in terms of covering all the accepted bases - the Leaping Bunny.  But what does it all mean?  Well, in theory it is simple: no animal testing or cruelty has been conducted in the production or sale of the product.  This includes third party testing and circumstances where testing is required by law.  For that reason, products for sale in China are not considered cruelty free due to their pre and post market testing laws.  While pre-market testing will stop being required in 2021, it is not altogether banned nor has any rule been made to change post-market regulations.

For many, the meaning of cruelty free also expands to parent companies (i.e. the corporation that OWNS the brand, like Johnson & Johnson, Loreal, Estee Lauder, Shiseido...).  For some people to consider the product cruelty free it needs to not only be from a cruelty free brand but also a cruelty free parent company.  Furthermore, for me personally cruelty free ALSO means that no animals were harmed to create the product -- this means that non RSPO palm oil is not cruelty free to me, and neither is anything that contains venom (bee, snake, or otherwise) or royal jelly.


Organic: one of the most misused terms on this list, organic is often plopped onto a label in order to mislead customers and get them thinking the formulation is better than it actually is.  Sadly you will often see the word organic used in marketing as there just is not enough regulation over terms like this - some brands will have this on their bottle when only a single ingredient is actually certified organic (and even worse this is often only 0.05% of that formulation!).

To check if something is truly organic, look to the ingredient list for confirmation, search for certifications (though the brand themselves does not require one to be trusted - they can use organically certified ingredients instead!), and ask for transparency if you are unsure.  And remember, each country has their own certifying bodies (such as Soil Association, BioGro, EcoCert...) and set of regulations for determining what "organic" means.  However, the common baseline is a minimum of organic ingredients (always between 70% and 100%),  no harsh/dangerous ingredients included, no GMOs, and no pesticides used in farming practices.


Greenwashing - The Importance of Labels


Ethical: This is one of the most complex terms, and is a tough nut to crack as it consists of so many things... To me, being ethical is the culmination of ALL the other terms.  It means workers are treated fairly, paid well, and are in safe conditions.  It means the products being made are not damaging the planet and have animal welfare, habitats, and sustainability in mind.  It means the process and finished product are safe for human health.  It means the item for sale is accessible.  Basically it's the level of thoughtfulness, kindness, and respect of any given product or brand.


Plastic Free: a pretty straightforward term in that these products contain no plastics!  No plastic packaging.  No plastics inside the formulations.  Just no plastic!  You might see bamboo, glass, metal, or paper used instead.



Zero Waste: a little more complicated, as I believe nothing is really zero waste.  I am not keen on this term as I think it is super misleading, especially for customers.  Nothing is zero waste.  There is *always* waste involved, even if you don't see the end result.  Things are shipped in packaging, raw materials are used to create items, and there will always be some element of disposability to products.  However, I would say that for me personally zero waste products come in two forms: fully home compostable packaging, or no packaging at all.  This generally involves solid and powder formulations as oils and water based creations require leak-proof holders.



Minimal/Low Waste: this is a category I think often includes what others call zero waste, and usually involve products that are refillable or have cartridge inserts.  These might use small amounts of plastic, but are low on waste and are more sustainable since the main unit is reused time and again.


Greenwashing - The Importance of Labels


I think that covers most of the big ones, but if I missed anything you want to know more about let me know and I will be sure to add it and dig a bit deeper!  I'm hoping this little guide serves as a helpful jumping off point for anyone starting out with their greener/ethical living journey, but also gives a bit more consistency to all you lovelies.  Using these terms in a specific way is so important, so laying out what they all mean to me is my way of showing responsibility and transparency.  Because these words NEED meaning and should not just be thrown around to try to get more sales.  So let's stamp out greenwashing together and be sure to challenge the misuse of phrases related to this lifestyle!

And if you are looking for more information on how to avoid greenwashing, are wanting to dig deeper into issues surrounding sustainability, or just want more fab content so you can learn more about greener and ethical living, feel free to have a browse on the blog or pop me a request for a new post idea.  I'm happy to take your thoughts on board and help you navigate any questions you have! xx

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