There are so many eco and green terms flying about nowadays that if you're confused, you're not alone. With various different terms all meaning similar but slightly different things, it’s easy for them to blur into one. That's why we've put together this simple glossary of language and terms used in the world of sustainability to help clear things up. From biodegradable to zero waste, here are some of the most commonly used eco words and what they actually mean...
If something is eco-friendly then it is considered to be something that is good, or kind, to the environment. It’s seen to not be harmful. Therefore you can have eco-friendly products such as an eco-friendly chocolate bar, but you can also have eco-friendly processes, decisions or actions, such as how to make your home more eco-friendly. Eco-friendly is so closely tied up with our understanding of sustainability that in many ways, the two are virtually interchangeable.
If a product is recycled, that means it is made from recycled materials. Recycling is the process of taking a product or material and turning it into something new. The original product is destroyed in this process, usually through a melting process, but it is then used to form new products. Anything from notebooks to clothing can be made from recycled materials. This cuts down waste and ensures useful resources are converted into new products, rather than being wasted after a single use. We use recycled metals, including brass and aluminium, to make our Jewellery collections. You can read more about how we utilise recycled materials here.
If a product says it is recyclable, that simply means that you can put it into the recycling bin when you are done with it. It does not necessarily mean that it has been made from recycled materials, though some products are both recycled and recyclable. Many items are recyclable nowadays! Examples are aluminum cans, plastic water bottles, most food tubs, bottles, cans, and many more.
Sustainable is a big word that can mean different things to different people. To put it simply & according to the Cambridge Dictionary, sustainable in the eco context means ‘causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.’ The World Commission on Environment and Development describes it as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.’ Sustainability means creating new things in a way that doesn't deplete our natural resources and does little to no damage to the environment. A simple concept of sustainability is that if you use a tree to make something, you should be replanting another tree in its place. Every product you will find on our website and in our stores has been sustainably produced.
A carbon footprint refers to the total emissions of carbon dioxide that an individual person or company is responsible for putting out into the world. This includes the carbon created by heating your home, driving to work, the products you purchase and the diet you eat. People often refer to a carbon footprint in relation to the difference in emissions between different forms of the same activity. For example, the difference in emissions caused by travelling by train versus aeroplane. In this example, travelling by train creates a smaller carbon footprint than travelling by air.
Whilst this might seem like an obvious one, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what reusable really means. Many of us probably have lots of reusables in our homes already, without even knowing about it. A reusable product can be anything, but will often refer to plastic items such as straws, coffee cups and cutlery. Reusable products are designed to last for years, reducing their environmental impact. Some reusable products your probably already using include shopping bags and tupperware containers.
Often used when referring to energy or resources, renewable simply means from a source that can keep being naturally regenerated. Renewable resources include sunlight, wind, the movement of water, and geothermal heat. These can then be used to make renewable energy through the use of wind farms, solar panels and more. Although most renewable energy sources are sustainable, some are not.
Green is a vague term that is usually applied to anything that is considered to be eco-friendly or sustainable. Being green typically means ensuring that the products you buy are sustainable and you live in a way that is eco-friendly or conscious of the environment.
Greenwashing is when an organisation spends a lot of time marketing themselves as environmentally friendly without actually taking any steps towards minimising their environmental impact. The intention of greenwashing is to mislead customers into trusting that a brand or business is eco-conscious, either through misleading or untrue information. This is a marketing tactic often used by huge companies to try and appeal to customers who are more environmentally conscious and so wouldn't usually consider their brand as an option for their lifestyle.
Natural materials are any materials that come from the earth. Natural materials are generally less processed and are better for the environment as they can be recycled or repurposed more easily than synthetic or man-made materials. Some commonly used natural materials include cotton, bamboo, wood, paper, wool and linen.
Veganism, as a term, was actually coined in 1944 as an off-shoot from vegetarianism, here in the UK. Vegans do not eat or use animal products such as meat, dairy, honey, eggs, silk, wool or leather. Veganism is not just a dietary choice, it is an ethical lifestyle. There are a staggering 600,000 vegans in the UK and the numbers keep on rising. According to The Vegan Society, "Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose." Vegans will also avoid other things that cause harm to animals such as visiting zoos or using feather pillows. There are a number of reasons why someone chooses to live a vegan lifestyle, but animal welfare is ultimately at the heart of the movement and it is considered a philosophy-based lifestyle.
A newer term with a less definite meaning, plant-based is definitely adjacent to vegan but it is not the same. Plant-based usually refers to diet only, so someone who eats plant-based foods would still be happy to wear wool and leather, and use cosmetic products tested on animals. Eating a plant-based diet does not necessarily involve avoiding products or services that cause suffering to animals. Again, there are many different ways people use the term plant-based, but the general consensus is that a plant-based person will not eat a 100% vegan diet 100% of the time, instead their diet focuses mainly on plant foods such as vegetables and grains. People usually eat a plant-based diet because of health reasons or environmental ones, but animal welfare isn't usually at the forefront. Plant-based diets include flexitarian, vegetarian and pescatarian diets.
If you're an animal lover, or a cosmetics lover, you've probably seen the term 'cruelty-free' thrown around a lot. To put it simply, cruelty-free means that a product and its ingredients weren’t tested on animals. A lot of brands offering cosmetics, personal-care products and household-cleaning products test their products and/or ingredients on animals in laboratories. The animals used for these experiments range from mice and rabbits to pigs and dogs. A lot of these experiments can be painful, causing harm to the animals before they are euthanised. This is why many people choose to buy cruelty-free products! Shopping cruelty-free is easy, take a look at Cruelty Free UK for top tips on getting started.
Biodegradable refers to whether or not a product can be broken down, and reabsorbed, without causing any harm to the surrounding environment. Microbes, fungi and bacteria are responsible for naturally breaking down items. Different things take different lengths of time to break down, and some materials are better at biodegrading than others. Things that take hundreds of years to biodegrade can still be sold as 'biodegradable', though this is obviously much less sustainable than something that only takes months to biodegrade. This means that, technically, almost any product could be labelled ‘biodegradable’ because most things will break down at some point in the future whether they’re derived from nature, like a banana skin, or made from chemicals, like plastic. Biodegradable items must also be disposed of properly in order to be able to biodegrade. Biodegradable plastics often need specific conditions in order to break down. If they are left in an area without these specific conditions, they will never degrade.
Compostable materials are materials that have been certified to break down completely into non-toxic components (water, carbon dioxide, and biomass) that will not harm the environment. These materials also need to be given the right conditions in order to break down. The time it takes for something to break down depends largely on the product itself and the composting conditions, but the process is usually faster than biodegrading. Some materials can decompose in your home compost (such as loose tea leaves and apple cores) but not all compostable materials are suitable for composting at home. For anything to be legally labelled compostable, it has to have been certified to break down in industrial (council) composting facilities within 180 days.
The Department for Agriculture and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) states that: "Organic food is the product of a farming system which avoids the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides; growth regulators and livestock feed additives. Organic agriculture is a systems approach to production that is working towards environmentally, socially and economically sustainable production. Instead, the agricultural systems rely on crop rotation, animal and plant manures, some hand weeding and biological pest control." Essentially, organic means fewer chemicals, and more respect for wildlife and biodiversity. Many things can be organic, from fruits and vegetables to T-shirts! Have a look at the Soil Association website here for more information.
Zero waste is a concept or principle. It is the aim to change how we consume things so that waste is prevented as far as possible, with the hope that waste is ultimately eliminated. This would mean that no waste ends up in landfills and incinerators, as well as in the natural environment, such as our oceans. The aim of someone living a zero waste lifestyle is to send nothing to landfill, recycle as little as possible and compost the rest of their waste. People living zero waste lifestyles will often choose to use refillable products, such as Fill, for their household and cosmetic products. They will also use reusable straws and cutlery, like our picnic set. Zero waste also involves reusing left over food to create yummy new dishes and recycling or reusing old jars and tins.
Fair trade is a term used to describe an arrangement designed to support and uplift producers globally. The purpose of fair trade is to pay producers a fair wage no matter where they are in the world and to improve social and environmental standards, especially in developing countries. The movement generally focuses on specific products such as coffee, tea, cocoa, sugar, wine and cotton but can extend to almost anything. Simply put, fair trade is a trading partnership based on transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. There are several recognised fair trade certifiers across the globe that provide auditing and award certain businesses and suppliers with a fair trade certificate if they meet specific criteria. These certifications can be expensive and are difficult for many smaller scale producers to achieve. This is the reason why many smaller-scale artisans and brands (like ours) don't have official fair trade certifications. Instead, we choose to work to the 10 principles of Fair Trade.
10 Principles of Fair Trade
The 10 principles of fair trade set by the World Fair Trade Organisation are intended to help businesses work towards a fairer world for everyone. The main principles include ensuring there is no child labour, respecting the environment, ensuring good working conditions, paying a fair price and upholding transparency and accountability. Read the full 10 principles here.
Biodiversity is all the different kinds of life you'll naturally find in one specific area. This includes a variety of animals, plants, fungi, and even microorganisms like bacteria that make up our natural world. Each one of these works together in harmony to maintain balance and support life. It is important to protect biodiversity as this keeps the world in balance and avoids species dying out or other catastrophic environmental effects.
A social enterprise is an organisation with a social or environmental purpose. Social enterprises prioritise benefit to people and the planet, using the majority of their profit to further their mission. The purpose of a social enterprise is to improve social justice, reduce economic inequality and to improve environmental sustainability. Social enterprises can be anything from cafes and restaurants to shops and art organisations to cleaning services and health care providers. You can learn more about social enterprises here.
Everything we sell here at AARVEN is ethically made & sourced. But what does that mean? To put it simply, ethically made means products are made without exploiting people, animals or the environment. Some ways that products can be ethical is by being fairly traded, organic or cruelty free, but there are thousands of categories that exist beside ethical production. For us, ethically made means ensuring a fair price for all of our artisans, working directly with craftspeople so they don't have to share their earnings with a middle man, never cancelling an order and auditing workshops to ensure there is no forced labour, child labour or unjust working conditions. As stated by Shop Ethical; "There is nothing wrong with trading goods and services, however it’s a different story when this becomes about reducing the power of local communities, increasing the divide between rich and poor, the Global West and the Third World, driving our ever increasing consumption of natural resources, reducing biodiversity and even significantly reducing the basic protections of animals." You can find out more about our global supply chain here.