If you’re trying to shop according to your conscious, chances are you’re coming across a myriad of buzzwords. All of them are used almost interchangeably, but they have very different implications. The most important thing to remember is that none of these terms have a legal definition, besides fair trade, and may be used by companies as a facade. This is greenwashing and it takes advantage of the confusion, so here’s a guide to what each term means:
Ethical is used one of two ways. Either no animals were harmed to make the product, or the garment workers were treated with respect. This usually, though not necessarily, indicates a livable wage and safe working conditions. Again, more research will be required to determine how they mean to use it.
Fair Trade Certified businesses are confirmed to pay living wages by a third party. According to their website, they ensure businesses empower their workers and the communities in which they live. Sometimes, though, it is less clear that these practices are being implemented in a way that helps small artists – middle men and resellers sometimes muddy the waters, or obfuscate who benefits most.
Green is a general term that companies use to imply sustainability. But what does it mean? Nothing. It is just the implication of sustainability, without any guarantee the company follows good practices. You should research or ask about their supply chain to be sure.
Sustainable describes a system that perpetuates without creating harm to the environment. The company could use renewable materials, recycled materials, dyes that don’t harm the environment, etc. While choosing one is better than none, you shouldn’t assume that a company is completely without environmental impact, nor that the company even follows sustainable practices beyond a token few.
Written by contributor Mary Imgrund.
Mary Imgrund is a graduate student at American University pursing an MA in Political Communication, and she writes about sustainable lifestyle on her own blog, Fennec Fawn, and for Eco Warrior Princess. She splits her time between Washington DC and Pennsylvania, where she runs a market for sustainable and handmade goods. She’s a skincare hoarder, Twitter lurker, and celebrated worrier looking to make a difference in American politics and the world.