Have you ever found yourself a little confused about what an eco friendly word actually means?
There are lots of terms out there now. Many buzzwords and trending terms that have become popular on product packaging and advertising.
Some eco friendly terms and words have really meaning behind them and are backed up by third party accreditation, whereas others are misused and added to packaging to make the product appear greener.
Misuse of green claims is known as greenwashing. This is when a claim, such as ‘eco friendly’, is used on something that’s not actually positive for the environment. This is a real problem. Many people do want to be more eco-friendly when making purchases, but are being tricked by companies.
Thankfully, this is starting to be cracked down on in the UK by the Green Claims Code.
With this in mind, it’s useful to know the real meaning behind certain eco terms.
The below glossary offers an A-Z eco word list of all the sustainability terminology, green words and eco friendly terms that you will hear and read about.
A-Z List of Eco-Friendly Terms
Activated Charcoal – An almost pure form of carbon created from the burning of a high carbon biomass source, such as wood or coconut shell, at high temperatures alongside an inert gas and then oxygen. The result is a highly porous, ‘activated’ piece of charcoal that can filter water and air. It can also be used as a health ingredient in beauty products. You can read more about activated charcoal water filters here.
Afforestation – This is the action of planting trees to create a forest in an area that wasn’t previously covered by trees. You can think of this as the opposite of deforestation.
Anthropocene – An unofficial unit of geological time (called an epoch) to describe humans out of control impact on the Earth. Other geological units of time include the Jurassic and Triassic periods (although these are over much longer timescales). The Anthropocene is used to describe the time we’re living through now.
Atmosphere – The layer of air and gas surrounding Earth (and other objects in space) held in place by gravity. On Earth, our atmosphere stretches out for around 10,000km before you hit outer space.
Bagasse – The leftover fibrous material after sugarcane has been harvested. It can be used for secondary purchases for products and packaging.
Biodegradable – The naturally occuring process of a material being decomposed by bacteria and other living organisms. In terms of biodegradable products, there are no set timeframes and specific conditions for this to occur, nor is there any guarantee that the degrading pieces are safe for the environment.
Biodiesel – A type of fuel made from renewable sources, including vegetable oils and animal fats.
Biodiversity – A ranging term to describe the variety of different species. It can be used for a specific location or ecosystem, or for all life on Earth.
Bioenergy – The energy produced from burning biomass, such as corn and soy.
Biofuel – An umbrella term for energy sources that come from living or recently living biomass. Biofuels can include biogas, biodiesel and organic matter of biological origin. Biofuel can exist as a solid, liquid or gas. It’s considered a renewable source of energy.
Biogas – Consists of a mixture of gases produced from the breakdown of organic matter in an anaerobic environment. This includes animal waste, food waste and plant material. Main gases released are methane, carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulphide. It’s considered a renewable form of energy.
Biomass – Any plant or plant-based material that’s used as fuel primarily to produce electricity or heat. Materials include wood, agricultural waste, energy crops and vegetable oils.
Biome – A broad term used to describe an area with a shared regional climate. This can span across large areas and even continents. For example, the tundra, grass savanna and tropical rainforest biome.
Bioplastics – A type of plastic made from natural resources. Most bioplastics are derived from plant-based materials, such as corn starch, potato starch and wheat straw, rather than petroleum used for traditional plastic. Bioplastics can also be made from fungi and algae. Bioplastics are biodegradable and renewable.
Biosphere – The collection of ecosystems where all life on Earth exists.
Bird Friendly – Refers to coffee that has been shade grown and in certain conditions, e.g. organic. Bird Friendly is a certified term that;s assessed by The Smithsonian Center in the US.
Black Hydrogen – Refers to hydrogen that’s been derived using fossil fuels as an energy source. This is sometimes called grey hydrogen too.
Blue Carbon – Used to describe all of the carbon captured and stored in oceans, marine environments and coastal ecosystems such as mangroves.
Blue Hydrogen – Refers to hydrogen that’s been made using fossil fuels, but with the extra promise that the manufacturing is combined with carbon capture and storage or tree planting. A much greener alternative is (surprisingly) called green hydrogen.
Carbon – A naturally occuring chemical element found throughout the universe.
Carbon Dioxide – A chemical compound of one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms found as a gas. Naturally occuring throughout the world, it’s used by photosynthetic organisms, such as plants and algae. Since the industrial revolution, atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have been rapidly rising to levels not seen in hundreds of thousands of years. This is causing changes in our climate.
Carbon Emissions – The amount of carbon dioxide emitted from the burning of fossil fuels.
Carbon Farming – Refers to a set of agricultural practices with the goal of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide in soil and vegetation. Practices can include no-till farming, cover cropping, agroforestry and rotational grazing. I prefer the term regenerative farming which takes a more holistic approach.
Carbon Footprint – The total amount of carbon dioxide (or greenhouse gases as a whole) emitted over a given time period for an individual, company, event or product.
Carbon Negative – Used for activities or to describe businesses who remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than they emit. It’s not a regulated term.
Carbon Neutral – A term used by businesses when their carbon emissions are balanced out by the amount of carbon they remove from the atmosphere.
Carbon Offset – The action of compensating for carbon dioxide emissions by other means. For example, trees are often planted to compensate for industrial carbon emissions. There are other carbon offset schemes too, such as projects to reduce emissions at source.
Carbon Positive – Has the same meaning as ‘carbon negative’. You can be negative or positive if you remove more carbon than you emit.
Carbon Sequestration – Sequestration is the fancy name for capture and storage. Carbon sequestration means that carbon (usually carbon dioxide) is removed from the atmosphere and stored away for a long time. Around the natural world, carbon is removed and stored in trees, soil and oceans. Trees are the Earth’s natural carbon sequesters. They take carbon dioxide from the air and transform it into biomass. It’s only released again when this biomass is disturbed or burned.
Climate – The long term pattern of weather in a certain area or region. Climate is usually tracked over a 30 year and longer time scale.
Climate Action – A range of activities, strategies and policies with the aim of lessening the impact of climate change. Aims include reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide, restoring habitats and reforestation.
Climate Change – A term to describe the recent and rapid change in global climate conditions and patterns. It’s become an overarching term of weather change caused by large increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Coal – One of the main types of fossil fuels. Coal is a black, sedimentary rock mainly made from carbon. It’s thought that many coal deposits originated in former wetlands that existed millions of years ago. The use of coal as a fuel exploded during and after the industrial revolution. It’s still the world’s primary source of energy. The burning of coal is the biggest source of human-induced carbon dioxide emissions.
Compost – A mixture of natural materials (usually biodegraded plant, animal and foot waste) that is used to fertilise and improve soil quality.
Compostable – Unlike ‘biodegradable’ and ‘degradable’, compostable is a defined and regulated term for the process of a material biodegrading under certain conditions and timeframes. It’s a human-led process. To be compostable, an item must naturally biodegrade into compost that’s safe to go back into the Earth.
COP – Stands for Conference of the Parties. COP is the UN’s annual climate change conference. It’s been running since the first conference in Berlin in 1995. At the conference, all parties assess progress in dealing with climate change as well as discussing and agreeing on legal obligations for future commitments. For example, the Paris Agreement was signed at the COP Paris in 2015.
Crude Oil – One of the main types of fossil fuels. Crude oil is also known as petroleum and exists in the Earth’s layers as a thick, yellowy-black liquid. Crude oil is extracted by oil drilling and other environmentally harmful methods including oil sands. Once extracted, it’s then refined and separated into different products.
Deforestation – The clearing of trees over a large area. These forested areas are felled to make way for agriculture, animal farming, mining, urbanisation and for the timber itself.
Degradable – Something that is capable of being broken down by chemical or biological means. The term can be used to market a product e.g. dog poo bags, but it isn’t regulated and is meaningless when it comes to the environment.
Eco Consumerism – Relating to more sustainable consumer behaviour resulting in the development and production or items and services with positive environmental claims. For the consumer, it’s the act of choosing a product that is more environmentally friendly or one that is the least harmful to the environment.
Eco Friendly – A catch all term for anything that is regarded as being better for the environment. This is not a regulated term and is open for misuse. Often used interchangeably with environmentally friendly.
Eco Tourism – also known as ecotourism. Involves travel to natural areas to support a local conservation effort, for example conservation of a rainforest or for a vulnerable species.
Ecosystem – The complex interaction of a community of plants, animals and other living organisms in a given geographic area.
Electric Vehicle – Also known as EVs or less frequently BEVs (battery electric vehicle). Electric vehicles are equipped with a rechargeable battery and require no input from fossil fuels, including petrol and diesel.
End of Life – this is to do with a product rather than a living thing! End of life refers to when an item is no longer used and is either recovered or becomes waste.
Energy Efficient – The concept of using as much energy as needed whilst eliminating or reducing energy waste.
Environment – Used to describe the surrounding of the physical natural world. It can relate to an area of almost any scale.
Environmentally Friendly – A catch all term for anything that is regarded as being better for the environment. This is not a regulated term and is open for misuse. Often used interchangeably with eco friendly.
Ethical – Relates to moral principles, values and standards involving questions of right and wrong.
Fairtrade – A system of certification to make sure an agreed set of standards are kept between the producer and supply of a product to a company. The standards take into account fair prices, better working conditions and better deals for the producers, who are in developing countries.
Fair Trade – The general (and uncertified) term for trade between a producer and a seller through a supply chain that ensures relationships are fair and sustainable.
Fast Fashion – The name for cheap clothes produced rapidly and on a mass scale to imitate the designs seen on fashion catwalks and from big brands. Fast fashion clothing is often manufactured in factories with poor working conditions.
Flexitarian – A person who predominantly has a vegetarian diet but will supplement this by occasionally eating fish and meat.
Forest – A large of of land primarily covered in trees and with understory vegetation. Tend to be bigger than woods or woodland.
Fossil Fuels – A type of natural fuel originating from fossiled animal and plant remains that have been buried in the Earth’s crust over millions of years. For the reason of this timescale, fossil fuels are non-renewable. Coal, oil and natural gas are the most common types of fossil fuels. These fuels are extracted, refined and burned to provide energy. The name ‘fossil fuel’ is heavily tainted because of their role in climate change.
Free Range – Relates to animals and livestock that have freedom to roam outdoors in a natural environment. The requirements of free range can change between animals, for example free range chicken has different conditions to free range pork. According to Compassion in World Farming, certified organic meat offers better welfare standards.
FSC – Stands for Forest Stewardship Council. There are 3 types of FSC labels that are mainly found on wood, paper and packaging products, but can also be found on clothing, shoes and cork items. The FSC Certified label ensures wood products come from sustainably managed forests with zero deforestation.
FSC 100% – Ensures all the wood-based material in the product is from 100% verified sustainably managed forests.
FSC Mix – Means the wood-based material in the product comes froma mixture of FSC certified forests, recycled materials and uncertified FSC ‘controlled wood’.
FSC Recycled – Ensures all the wood-based material comes from recycled materials.
Global Warming – Relates to the gradual and sustainable increase to the average global temperature. This is attributed to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. Under the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the aim was to keep global warming under 1.5oC. More recently, global warming has been incorporated under ‘climate change’ which accounts for other changes in weather and ecological systems.
Green Carbon – Used to describe all of the carbon captured and stored in terrestrial ecosystems, and vegetation. This includes habitats, such as forests, plants and soil.
Green Consumerism – See Eco Consumerism.
Green Claims Code – A set of rules introduced by the Competition and Markets Authority of the UK government to make sure environmental claims by brands are genuine. It’s an attempt to reduce the amount of greenwashing.
Green Concrete – A type of concrete that uses waste or leftover materials in some capacity to make new concrete. Generally, this requires less energy during product and lessens the impact on the environment and carbon dioxide emissions. Read up more on green concrete.
Green Hydrogen – Refers to hydrogen that’s made using renewable energy as opposed to fossil fuels (black hydrogen).
Green Premium – This is the extra amount you often have to pay for a zero-carbon product compared to a fossil fuel equivalent. The term was coined by Bill Gates.
Green Roof – The act of ‘greening’ or adding plants and vegetation to a roof top. This makes use of an otherwise dead space by creating a mini eco-system for the benefit of the local environment and the creatures within it. Green roofs are a fantastic idea and are also much more interesting to look at!
Greencrowding – When companies join an initiative with good intentions but use it to hide, look good and move at the speed of the lowest adopter. For example, the Alliance to End Plastic Waste has members including Shell, ExxonMobil and Proctor & Gamble. Are they really planning to end plastic waste? Probably not.
Greenhushing – The process of deliberately hiding or under-reporting green credentials to evade scrutiny. For example, if a bank has a net zero target (usually published to make them look good), they avoid reporting on their progress (usually because there isn’t much).
Greenlabelling – The action of calling something green or sticking some form of plant symbol on packaging or a website to make things look more eco friendly. For example, Etihad airline claimed to be a sustainable choice and a ‘conscious choice for the planet’. Utter nonsense. This claim has banned by the Advertising Standards Authority.
Greenlighting – Highlighting one aspect of a product or a business that is environmentally friendly. Many companies do this with a ‘new sustainability line’, meanwhile the vast majority of the business continues as usual with non-green initiatives with no real plan to change.
Greenrinsing – The changing of sustainability targets when previous ones haven’t been met. Many companies, such as Coca Cola, drop their targets when their goals haven’t been realised.
Greenshifting – Blaming the consumer for issues caused with the environment. The whole concept of a ‘carbon footprint’ was dreamed up by executives at BP to do just that – shift blame to the consumer. Meanwhile they’re investing millions into false green advertising.
Greenwashing – The purposeful misleading of information to give the impression that a product or organisation is better for the environment than it actually is. Businesses use greenwashing as a communications strategy to paint their brands in a more favourable light when in reality their business is harming the environment.
Heat Pump – An energy-efficient heating system for homes and buildings. They are 3-4 times more efficient than traditional gas boilers. Heat pumps work by transferring heat from one source (generally the air or ground) into a usable format for your home. For every unit of electricity needed for power, the pump produces over three times the heat energy. If we’re going to move away from fossil fuels, heat pumps are going to play a huge role in our heating systems. Read more on our air source heat pump guide.
HEV – Stands for Hybrid Electric Vehicle. HEVs have both an electric battery and fossil fuel powered engine. These vehicles are not plug-in electric vehicles and are run purely on petrol. When running the combustion engine can recharge the electric motor, to allow for partial electric power.
IPCC – Stands for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is the international body to assess the science behind climate change. The IPCC publishes a comprehensive assessment and report every 6 to 7 years.
Jute – The name of a plant. The jute plant is harvested for it’s stem fibres, which are used to make a woven jute fabric. This is also known as burlap. The biggest producers of jute are India, China and Bangladesh. Have a read up on jute sustainability.
Logging – The activity of cutting down trees for their timber on a large scale.
Microbiome – The community of microorganisms that exist in a given environment. For example, humans have a ‘gut microbiome’ consisting primarily of bacteria and microbes that live and exist together with numbers in the trillions.
Microplastic – Small, broken down pieces of plastic that are under 5mm in length. These can be highly problematic in natural environments, entering ecosystems and even being ingested by unknowing animals. Microplastics have been found in every part of the world, from Antarctica to deep in the Mariana Trench.
Natural Gas – One of the main types of fossil fuel. Natural gas is extracted from the Earth’s crust to ultimately use as energy. If you have a gas hob in your kitchen, you’ll be burning natural gas.
Palm Oil – A type of vegetable oil derived from the red fruit of oil palms and grown in the tropics. Palm oil has been found to be very useful material, used in everything from foods to beauty products and biofuels. By itself, palm oil is not bad for the environment. However, as it’s become more popular, humans have industrialised the growing of oil palms. Unfortunately, this has come at the expense of tropical rainforest which has been felled to replace with palm oil plantations. The result of deforestation is a highly negative environmental impact to local wildlife, ecosystems as well as carbon storage.
Passivhaus – Also known as Passive House in English, originated from Germany in the 1990s. It’s a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in building design and construction. The aim is to reduce a building’s ecological footprint by creating airtight buildings with great insulation, minimal heat loss and energy recovery systems.
Pescatarian – A person who eats fish and seafood alongside vegetables but no meat from land-based animals.
Petrol – A flammable, clear liquid refined from petroleum, also known as crude oil. In North America, petrol is known as gasoline, or sometimes just ‘gas’. This is confusing as it is a liquid and not a gas, and shouldn’t be confused with natural gas. Burning petrol emits greenhouse gases into the environment.
PHEV – Stands for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle. PHEVs have both a rechargeable battery and fuel tank. PHEVs have a larger battery than standard HEVs (hybrid electric vehicles) whose battery gets recharged from the motor.
Plant-based – A type of diet that consists primarily of foods that come from plants. Plant-based foods consist mainly of vegetables, fruits, grains, pulses and nuts. Although similar, plant-based has a certain element of flexibility and tends to be different from veganism, which avoids all animal-derived foods and materials completely.
Plastic – A synthetic material made from long chains of polymers. Most plastics are made from fossil fuels, including crude oil, which undergo intense, complex processes. Some types of plastics are recyclable whereas others are not. Plastic is not biodegradable, but instead breaks down into microplastics. You can now get types of ‘bioplastic’ that are derived from plant sources rather than fossil fuels.
Plastic Free – The concept of not using or not containing petroleum-based plastic.
PVC – Stands for polyvinyl chloride. A type of synthetic thermoplastic with many uses in the modern world.
Off Grid – Not connected to the main utility supplies, particularly electricity. Anything ‘off-grid’ will generate its own energy, power supply and sometimes water too.
Omnidegradable – Relates to a specific type of packaging that will breakdown in any given environment through microbial decay. Omnidegradable is a registered term and is technically compostable in an industrial facility. Read more about omnidegradable packaging here.
Organic (biochemistry) – Relates to anything that is or comes from animals, plants or biological matter.
Organic (farming) – A type of agricultural system that aims for increased sustainability and ecosystem health. The holistic approach integrates the use of ecological pest control, natural fertilisers, crop rotation and companion planting. Organic farming prohibits the use of synthetic chemicals, such as pesticides and fertiliser. For food and products to be labelled organic, they must be independently certified by a registered body, such as the Soil Association Organic.
Second Hand – Something that isn’t new. The concept of buying or receiving an item that has previously been owned or used. This is seen as more sustainable as it’s putting to use an existing resource rather than buying something new and creating more demand.
Shade grown – Usually applied to how coffee is grown. Shade grown coffee is better for the environment as it helps protect biodiversity and ensures rainforests are kept intact.
Sustainable – In a broad sense, it’s the concept of keeping something at a steady, maintainable level over time. The idea of being sustainable can apply to any and every industry. In every day life, being more sustainable will lower your environmental footprint and lessen the depletion of natural resources. For me, being sustainable means you care about the environment and all the living things within it.
Sustainability – The idea and actions behind the concept of being more sustainable. Sustainability allows us to live for today and meet our own needs without compromising or depleting the environment for the future.
Recyclable – An item that can be recycled for the material to be processed and used again.
Recycle – The process of converting an existing item or resource so it can be used again. Using a recycled resource saves the need to extract and use new, virgin material.
Reforestation – The planting of trees, woodland and forests on land. The term is used for the replanting of trees on various scales. Similar to afforestation and the opposite of deforestation.
Regenerative Agriculture – Also known as regenerative farming or regen ag. A method of producing food in a way that has a lower impact,, or even positive impact, on the environment in comparison to traditional agriculture. Regenerative methods aim to create positive benefits by taking a rehabilitation approach to farming, particularly to soil and its organic matter. You can learn more on regenerative agriculture here.
Renewable Energy – Energy created from natural processes that won’t run out. Renewable energy sources include solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, hydroelectric and bioenergy. Harnessing these self-replenishing energy sources usually has a low carbon footprint.
Reusable – Something that can be used over and over again. For example, a coffee flask, a backpack or one of my favourite on the go items, stainess steel food containers. The opposite is single use. Single use items are often made from cheap materials and fossil fuels. After one use they are set for the waste pile.
Rewilding – The process of restoring land to its natural state. It’s a type of conservation that involves reintroducing plants, trees and animal species to an area which then looks after itself without major human involvement. You can learn more about Rewilding Britain here.
Soil Association Organic – The oldest and largest organic certification organisation in the UK. Organic is a regulated term that must be certified by a registered body. Learn more about the Soil Association here.
Stainless Steel – A widely used material made from an alloy of metals (mainly iron and chromium). Stainless steel is energy intensive to produce but has many eco friendly benefits once it’s been created. Stainless steel is strong, corrosion resistant, non-reactive, reusable and recyclable. Read more on is stainless steel sustainable here.
Sustainability – Relates to the broad goal of humans co-existing on Earth with nature and wildlife without causing harm and damage over the long term.
Sustainable Living – A lifestyle goal that relates on a more individual level of trying to live a life without causing a negative environmental impact. People attempting to live sustainably aim to reduce the ecological footprint, carbon footprint and energy use. People may also alter their diet, transport choices and the everyday items they use around the home.
Tiny Forest – Also called mini forests or micro forests. A small area of dense, fast growing trees. Tiny forests are being used more in urban areas where space is tight and land is often barren.
Timber – The product of wood that has been harvested from felled trees. Timber mainly comes in the form of planks and beams to use in construction, flooring and furniture making. Also known as lumber.
Trees – A type of plant found across the world. Trees provide the Earth with breathable air, wildlife with habitats and help to moderate the climate through reducing erosion and capturing and storing carbon. Trees are indispensable to life as we know it.
Vegan Friendly – A product that does not contain animal-based or animal-derived ingredients.
Veganism – A way of life that eliminates all animal products and materials. Veganism is primarily associated with diet, which is wholly plant-based with nutrition coming from vegetables, fruits, grains, pulses and nuts. Animal-derived foods such as dairy, eggs and honey are not part of a vegan diet.
Wetland – An ecosystem where land is flooded by water either permanently or on a seasonal basis. Swamps, marshes and peat bogs are all types of wetlands. Wetlands are usually areas of high biodiversity and ecological importance. They also act as large carbon sinks.
Wheat Straw – A type of bioplastic that can be used to manufacture products in replace of fossil-fuel based plastics. For example, my eco friendly phone case is made from wheat straw.
Wishcycling – When you put something in the recycling bin in the hope it can be recycled, but you’re not too sure. For example, bread bags and other soft plastics generally can’t be recycled from home but you put them in the plastic bin in the hope they’ll make their way to the right place. I do this sometimes too, but it can do more harm than good.
Woodland – A large area of land mainly covered with trees. Woods tend to be smaller than forests and with less dense tree cover. Take a look at these woodland facts here.
Zero Waste – One of the utopias of sustainable living is to produce zero waste. It mainly refers to sending nothing to landfill. Instead items are composted, recycled or reused. Ultimately, it’s the conservation of resources.