What’s in a Label? Beginner’s Guide to Sustainability Terminology


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Table of Contents

When we buy a product it’s really hard for us to actually know where it comes from.
  • Where was this product made?
  • Who made it? 
  • Why is it better than any other product? 
  • How do I do good for the planet just by shopping?
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These are some questions that we ask ourselves or our friends when out shopping, and even if they aren’t questions you haven’t thought of, we are here to explain the confusing environmental lingo. We understand that the technical terminology and jargon is not super accessible. We also know that as a savvy consumer, you want to make the best decision possible.  Let us break it down for you.

What is "Sustainability"?

Sustainability is when the status quo is maintained. Basically, when you buy and consume something it doesn’t change the environment where it was produced. In fact something is sustainable if it makes the future better. An example of something sustainable is when you buy from an existing manufacturer and help support or sustain their business, like getting your milk from a dairy farm.

Sustainability is when the status quo is maintained.

What is "Ethical"?

A product is said to be ethical or “ethically sourced” when manufacturers give employees appropriate wages, if the sourcing of materials is not detrimental to the lives of the local communities, and the production of these products is not destroying the environment. Lab created gemstones are a perfect example of something that is ethical.

What is "Organic"?

Organic is tricky. Technically, organic simply means that you used manure to grow a crop and not fertilizer. It has nothing to do with how clean or pure what you are getting is. Anything can be organic if it doesn’t spoil the quality of the soil from where it is procured. Basically, if it comes from nature and is of natural origin, it is organic.

What is "Vegan"?

When something is vegan, it is made from materials that are not necessarily organic. You can definitely have food that is vegan and this is from nature. Products such as shoes or handbags, however, are only vegan if they are not made out of leather. Usually this is a synthetic material. Just because something is vegan does not mean that it is good for the environment. Some synthetic and processed materials can cause more harm than good.

What is "Eco-Friendly"?

Eco-friendly is the most vague of all of these. In all honesty, we could call anything eco-friendly, as long as we can justify that it doesn’t cause harm to the environment. An action, an item, a product can all be eco-friendly if we just believe it is.

Sometimes, these words are used interchangeable and mostly together. The question then is, how do you, the consumer figure out what works? How do you inform yourself?

We Are In This Together

Seriously though, we understand, even though we’ve laid out some definitions it doesn’t make your job any easier. Sometimes, these words are used interchangeably and mostly together. The question then is, how do you, the consumer figure out what works? How do you inform yourself? We believe the best approach is to trust resources that are committed to bring you unbiased information about brands, labels, manufacturers, and your community. Knowledge really is power, inform yourself about industry standards, practices and certifications. Don’t get down about science, trust your gut and believe in your instincts. We are in this together.
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