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Sustainability meanings: unwrapping the green buzzwords

Introducing you to the world of sustainability definitions

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Overwhelmed with the different green buzzwords? We dig into the sustainability meanings to unwrap concepts such as “sustainability”, “eco-friendly”, “ethical”, and “fair trade” and so on, to unleash your power to become a more conscious consumer!

Companies and the media often use “Green buzzwords” to promote their products or pull readers in through recognizable jargon. These are words we hear and see every day that often carries similar sounds but different meanings. This can create a confusing web of definitions so bear with me as I briefly unmask some of these sustainability meanings. 

Sustainability meanings: unwrapping the green buzzwords
Photo credit: cottonbro from pixels

Sustainability meanings & definitions

Meaning of Eco-friendly, Sustainable, and Green 

The terms green and eco-friendly have different meanings but both are very general and don’t have specific definitions. 

Green is more of a popular media term with no solid explanation and can be used in most conversations about the environment. 

Eco-friendly usually means something that doesn’t harm the environment but aside from that its application is pretty broad. 

The term sustainable is also a broad term, however, it is defined as “meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs”. When we talk about sustainability we are talking about specific, researched, and defined topics. Sustainability carries both specific and universal connotations. 

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Meaning of Recyclable and Renewable 

Renewable products are made from resources that will naturally replenish themselves over time. This includes most wood and plant-based products such as timber, corn, bamboo, etc. This term refers to the use of resources that grow naturally and replenish themselves, oil is not considered a renewable resource. With the growing population, there has been a push for more research on renewable materials to replace the finite ones we currently have. Once renewable products are made, they can either be recyclable, compostable, or trash depending on what other materials they are mixed with during production. If something is renewable it usually refers to the materials it was made with and not the ways in which the product will be disposed of.  

Recyclable refers to items whose materials can be reused or reprocessed into new products. Recycling old things helps keep them out of landfills for longer and also reduces the production of new harmful materials. However, most recyclable materials can only be reused a certain number of times before they must be thrown away. Therefore, it is not a perfect solution but can vastly decrease stress on the environment especially when done on a global scale. 

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Meaning of Compostable and Biodegradable 

Biodegradable products are things that will naturally break down into their original compounds over time. With the presence of certain bacteria and microorganisms, these items will eventually decompose and return to the earth. This includes anything from food scraps to paper and plastics since they all technically break down at some point. However, even if something is biodegradable it can still leave behind traces of harmful materials. For example, certain products are manufactured with chemicals that get left behind as the product breaks down. 

Compostable items are products that can break down completely into their natural form. These items do not leave behind harmful chemicals and usually break down faster than biodegradable products. However, most compostable materials require special facilities and conditions in order to begin this process since they do not decompose easily in landfills. Therefore, it is important to dispose of these items properly. 

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Meaning of Zero-waste 

Zero waste is a term referring to the idea of changing every aspect of a product and how it is produced. The idea focuses on the fact that the production systems we have in place are always creating harm as long as they continue operating in the ways that they do. 

Sustainability meanings: unwrapping the green buzzwords
Photo Credit: Going Zero Waste

Another part of the movement is striving to reduce waste and by-products as much as possible. However, the term itself can be slightly misleading since we will never truly have zero waste. Almost everything comes into contact with plastic at some point in its life and hyper-focusing on waste alone is ineffective. While this is certainly an important aspect of sustainability, it would be just as useful to incorporate other areas of sustainability into daily living while remaining aware of the zero-waste initiative. 

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Meaning of Ethical Trade, Fair-Trade 

Ethical trade is a movement that works to ensure the safety of workers throughout the globe. This means that these companies are expected to treat their employees safely and fairly in regards to hours, wages, and labor rights. It is an agreement between the company, suppliers, retailers, etc. to ensure that the people doing the labor are not being taken advantage of in these areas. It usually involves workers in many underdeveloped countries and can be an incredibly complex issue. 

Fair-trade is a movement focused on helping the producers/farmers of certain products get the best deal for their goods. In the past farmers had no control or knowledge of where their product was going or how much it was sold for. This created conditions in which they were taken advantage of monetarily. Fair-trade seeks to change that by creating certain standards such as a minimum price and a Fairtrade premium. This helps strengthen trading ties between traders and growers; especially between developed and underdeveloped countries. 

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That was a lot of information but hopefully, this clears up some confusion on sustainability meanings and will help out next time you come across these terms whether shopping, reading, or participating in other sustainable practices.

Sustainability meanings: unwrapping the green buzzwords

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Melanie Price

Melanie Price is an emerging freelance writer passionate about all sustainability topics from plant-based eating to greener living. She loves trying new methods for eco-friendlier lifestyles and incorporating the experiences into her writing. Fascinated by the ways in which we continually evolve to save our planet, she loves spreading her knowledge through writing. In her free time, she can be found making jewelry, trying tofu recipes, and hiking with her dog.

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