Although the terms “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably, there is in fact a vast difference between the two words. According to the dictionary, “eco-friendly” can be defined as “not harmful to the environment.”
On the other hand, the term “sustainable” is defined as “conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources.” The funny thing about these two definitions is that they are almost identical. For this reason, we are going to have to dig a bit deeper in order to find out the truth about eco-friendly versus sustainable terminology.
But before we dive in and enter the journey of discovery that will lead us to our answers, it is worth noting that not all product-labels should be taken at face value.
There are a number of organizations and companies that incorrectly label their products and services – as either eco-friendly or sustainable.
In reality, the businesses are neither and are simply cashing in on the green trend. This has a long-lasting impact on the environment and takes advantage of green consumers who are trying to do the right thing.
So, now that you have learnt what to look out for, let’s find out exactly what the difference is between eco-friendly and sustainable.
What is Eco-Friendly Living?
The term eco-friendly, or green, is typically used to describe products and services designed to have a low impact on the environment. The term is also often used to describe a lifestyle dedicated to the preservation of the natural environment.
This involves actively choosing to invest in greener services and products, as opposed to traditional alternatives. An eco-friendly lifestyle revolves around reducing waste, whether directly or indirectly. In addition to recycling and reusing whenever possible, reducing waste also involves being aware of one’s carbon footprint.
A carbon footprint is the sum total of greenhouse gas emissions produced by an individual or entity. As eco-friendly living centres around environmental concerns, attempting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is paramount.
This could mean taking public transport in lieu of solo commutes, or it could mean walking or cycling within a 1km radius of the home. Becoming aware of energy expenditure too is a big part of eco-friendly living. Remembering to switch off lights and appliances when not in use is another way to preserve natural resources.
What is Sustainable Living?
While sustainable living adopts all eco-friendly practices, these practices are only one branch of the three-legged stool. The three-legged stool refers to the three branches of sustainability: economics, social equity, and of course, the environment.
In a sense, sustainability looks at the broader picture and is more future-focused than eco-friendly practices. In other words, eco-friendly practices might be of benefit to the environment in the short-term, without having an impact on the economy and social justice.
The goal of sustainable living is to balance the relationship between the environment and humans. With this in mind, sustainability involves considerably more effort than eco-friendly living.
It branches out into the wider community – drawing on politics, economics, philosophy, social sciences and other sciences. An example of a sustainable practice would be the designing of greener spaces within the architecture of an urban environment. By caring for our natural resources this way, the planet’s finite resources are preserved for future generations.
Greenwashing: What to Look Out For
As with most things in life, a number of pseudo “eco-friendly” or “sustainable” products have emerged on the market. But unlike the scams of other industries, the consequences of pseudo-eco-friendly products and services are far-reaching.
In light of the confusion surrounding terms like green, eco-friendly, sustainable and biodegradable, a number of companies are taking advantage of the situation. By presenting their products and services as eco-friendly, the organizations are pulling the wool over well-meaning environmentalists’ eyes.
“Greenwashing” is the term used to describe the unethical actions of these companies. Whether it be that the packaging is not fully biodegradable, or whether massive amounts of energy are used in production, there is a fine line between green and grey.
As it stands, there are no regulations in place to monitor companies who greenwash, and so the onus is on the consumer. It is up to us as individuals to research our products in order to determine whether they are truly environmentally friendly or not.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, eco-friendly living is concerned primarily with the environment, while sustainable living is focused on an entire societal and economic system. As a result, eco-friendly living is only one pillar of the three-legged sustainability stool.
With that in mind, sustainable living and eco-friendly practices overlap entirely, but not all eco-friendly products and services are sustainable. When eco-friendly practices are not of benefit to the wider community, they are not considered sustainable.
When it comes to the health of our dear planet earth, the challenge can seem overwhelming. There are so many subtle nuances to consider, so many habits to adopt. In light of this, it is wise to make the transition slowly, embracing one positive change at a time.
This way, you can solidify new habits incrementally, ultimately working your way toward an eco-friendly lifestyle. But no matter whether you choose to focus on sustainability or not, you can sure make a difference by going green.
Remember, it is up to us as a global community to make the changes needed to avoid the impending climate crisis. Every action counts, no matter how insignificant it may seem, and it is well worth the effort for our future generations.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article, and that you can move forward in confidence knowing the difference between these two terms.
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