Decoding Eco-Friendly Jargon: Are Brands Truly Green, or Just Playing with Our Minds?

Decoding Eco-Friendly Jargon: Are Brands Truly Green, or Just Playing with Our Minds?


"Eco-Friendly," "Sustainable," "Vegan," and "Organic."  You'll find one such word no matter what product you try to buy. Seems like the manufacturers are too conscious of our little blue planet Earth and are trying to protect it. Yet we constantly come across headlines like

"Climate change: Top companies exaggerating their progress",

"Sustainability fails: 10 brands that got it wrong", and

"7 Companies Facing Environmental Issues".


So, are these brands fooling the consumers, or is the media exaggerating?
Well, a bit of both. To understand this better, let's dive into the basics. These brands are using something which is called "Greenwashing".
But what is Greenwashing?

Greenwashing is a marketing technique that uses misleading claims to present products or services as environmentally friendly when they may not be. Or simple words, it's brainwashing you into believing what you are buying is saving the environment. Which might not be true, but it will make you, the customer, pay a higher premium for goods, thinking that it is to save the planet. And it is some good PR.

On the other hand, the media keeps posting such news because it catches more eyes. But no matter how exaggerated it is, some truth hides in it. So, they are partially correct. What should you do as a customer to make the right choice? It all boils down to how well-worded you are with these jargon. And to help you with it, we have devised a list of jargon, what they are actually good about, and what's the unsaid truth.

1. Eco-Friendly

Eco-friendly is an umbrella term for all sorts of things about the products that might protect the Earth's ecosystem. So eco-friendly products sound like they've got the Earth's back. Well, not always.
Here's the kicker – brands often use this label as a bait and switch. They want us to feel like we're doing our part for the environment, but behind the scenes, they might plant one tree against all the pollution they've caused. It's all about the optics. For example, now smartphones don't have chargers in the box, which reduces e-waste. In theory, it sounds amazing. But then, with every smartphone, you can buy a charger at a discounted rate, which the customer ends up buying anyways. But each charger comes with its own packaging, which causes more harm than good, as landfills are filled with more cardboard. So, in this case, the only thing which is saved is a free charger from the brand, and obviously, they earn millions of dollars by selling those chargers.

2. Sustainable

Sustainability is the buzzword of the century, but hang on to your hats...Brands might slap on the "sustainable" sticker to attract green-conscious customers. But, in reality, some are still up to their eyeballs in unsustainable practices, like gobbling up resources and burning through energy like there's no tomorrow.

Like Nike launched an environmentally friendly shoe range called 'Considered'. However, the shoes, made with brown hemp fibres, didn't align with Nike's brand image or customer base and were discontinued within a year. Now, it's some sustainable waste.
3. Vegan
Vegan products contain no animal ingredients and haven't harmed any furry creatures in testing. But...Some brands are betting the farm on this one aspect while giving us the slip on other vital issues like their excessive packaging waste or the enormous carbon footprint of their products. So now it's a moral conundrum if you want to save the ecosystem or the one who lives in this ecosystem.
4. Cruelty-Free
Cruelty-Free means that no animals were harmed in the creation of a product. But let's not be blindsided here. This term, on its own, doesn't address the bigger picture. It's not guaranteed that a product is squeaky clean on all sustainability fronts. And at times, this Cruelty-free tag just suggests that the brand is not directly doing something cruel. But that doesn't mean they can't outsource it. Obviously, pointing at one example would be difficult, as the companies cruelly clean their records.
5. Organic
Organic products are made from ingredients grown without synthetic chemicals. But… While organic farming avoids harmful chemicals, it can also be less efficient, gobbling up more land potentially leading to deforestation if not managed carefully. So, "organic" doesn't always mean it's a win for Mother Earth. Plus, organic food is not equal to more healthy or less harmful food. Although organic uses non-synthetic pesticides, these pesticides are still harmful for human consumption, in some cases more harmful than their synthetic counterparts.
6. Fair Trade
Fair Trade is supposed to ensure fair wages and sustainable practices. Some brands slap on the "Fair Trade" tag without giving us a clear view of their supply chain. It's like trying to solve a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces – frustrating and confusing for us consumers.
While Fairtrade America is a well-known organization that certifies products as fair Trade, there can be confusion around the concept of "fair trade". Many brands, like Ben & Jerry's and Starbucks, have committed to being Fairtrade certified because they recognize the value of knowing how their ingredients are sourced.
7. Biodegradable
Biodegradable stuff should break down over time, but there's a twist... Biodegradable materials need specific conditions to break down. They might not do it in a landfill, which can lead to misunderstandings about their actual impact.
8. Recycled/Recyclable
These products or their packaging contain recycled materials and can be recycled after use. Labels like "recycled" may not reveal that only a tiny part of the product is actually recycled. Plus, some consumers may not fully grasp the recycling process, creating confusion.
Like plastic bags like grocery bags and trash bags are often labeled as recyclable, but the reality is that these items are not designed with circularity in mind and are intended to be used one time and then discarded.
9. Carbon Neutral/Climate Positive
These terms suggest brands offset their carbon emissions, resulting in a net-zero or negative carbon footprint. Some brands might be more interested in the optics than in making substantial efforts to cut emissions. It's like a magician's sleight of hand, where they divert our attention from their carbon-spewing activities.

So basically, not all brands are as eco-friendly as they'd like us to believe. Some are playing mind games with us, tapping into our desire to make the world a better place. So, although buzzwords can guide us towards better choices, they can also have our minds greenwashed. Now, it's up to us, the consumers, to do our research, look for trustworthy certifications, and get a grip on the bigger picture of a product's sustainability. By staying informed and making choices that truly align with our eco-values, we can make a difference and push brands to walk the talk when it comes to saving our planet.

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