By Tiffany Kelly, Beyond Bamboo
With the impacts of climate change having disastrous effects on human, animal and plant life around the world, more and more of us are becoming concerned about what we buy and interested in how we can make a positive difference. Brands across most industries are making all sorts of green claims but sometimes it can feel hard to make sense of the jargon and know for sure what it all really means.
Recently conducted research* found that almost two thirds (64%) of those questioned said they want to take climate action but feel overwhelmed by the numbers or jargon or are often put off by the lack of information available on the topic. The same study found that four in five (82%) would do more for the environment if they saw less ‘carbon jargon’ and instead received simpler information about what they could do to reduce their impact on the planet.
Simplifying the language may help you to understand properly the benefits of a cleaner, greener and more sustainable lifestyle. Here is Beyond Bamboo’s glossary of Green Terms to help you navigate these green claims and eco buzz words:
- Net zero
Net zero refers to achieving an equal balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. This can be done by changing business processes to reduce emissions in the first place–for example by switching to renewable energy or minimising plastic in products or packaging –while also actively removing the remaining greenhouse gases from the atmosphere for example, by contributing to projects that conserve natural habitats or plant trees to absorb carbon. You can also subscribe to you have carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and stored safely underground where it turns to stone. It tends to refer to current emissions, not historic ones.
- Carbon offsetting
Offsetting is a way of paying for others to reduce emissions or absorb CO2 to compensate for a company’s own emissions. For example, a business may pay towards tree planting or the delivery of energy-efficient cooking stoves to communities in developing countries. BUT brands should be doing that as well as cutting emissions directly, not just substituting them. Offsetting doesn’t actually cancel out – or ‘offset’ – the emissions to which they are linked. Also, contributing to a project that was going ahead anyway doesn’t help remove EXTRA carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So offsetting is beset with problems which is why it is falling out of favour.
- Carbon Neutral
Carbon neutrality is a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This can be achieved by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal (often through carbon offsetting) or by eliminating emissions completely. Again, this is generally used to describe current carbon dioxide emissions, not historic ones (which also need to be removed).
- Carbon Positive
This is a step beyond carbon neutral. Once net zero or carbon neutral status is achieved, a business can start to tackle removing its historic emissions or, for new businesses additional CO2 can be removed to create a wider environmental benefit.
- Cruelty Free
Cruelty-free is a label for products that do not harm or kill animals anywhere along its supply chain. Products tested on animals are not considered cruelty-free, since these tests are often painful and cause the suffering and death of animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo to be sure an item is genuinely cruelty-free.
- Plant Based
The word ‘plant-based’ has been thrown around A LOT in recent times. This move away from meat is fantastic news for the environment, our health and for animals. Big companies are now seeing the marketing value of the word ‘plant-based’, realising that people are more educated than ever about the environmental impact of food and the health benefits of eating ‘plant-based’ foods rather than ‘animal-based’ ones. Though some people, including food bloggers, may use the terms “plant-based” and “vegan” interchangeably, plant-based is an “umbrella term” and does not always equate to being vegan – so do check the labels and ask if the item really is vegan. Eating plant-based foods is the single biggest way we can reduce our impact on the environment as individuals.
Biodegradable materials or products are those that are able to break down to their basic components when given the right conditions and presence of microorganisms, fungi or bacteria. This is great as it keeps the item out of landfill and saves space. Some items are biodegradable/compostable in home composting bins, other require industrial composting silos where very high temperatures are reached. So, check if it is suitable for home composting as you can do this yourself, without the need for additional transport, and it also indicates that the item will break down relatively quickly. Once degraded/composted the item leaves nothing harmful behind. (https://www.thebalancesmb.com/what-does-biodegradable-mean-2538213)
Accreditation is an independent, third-party evaluation by an assessment body (such as certification body, inspection body or laboratory) against recognised standards. A brand having gained an industry accreditation ensures that due diligence has been done for that particular claim. Be aware that not all accreditation schemes are created equal so make sure the assessment body is widely recognised or else transparent in how it establishes the validity of claims.
This word is really thrown around a lot these days, but its real meaning is seldom well understood. Simply put, sustainable products and practices are those that do not jeopardise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It has become too broad a term with such little accountability that it can hardly be taken at face value. Brands that are operating “more sustainably” should always explain specifically how they are doing so.
- Zero Waste
Zero waste is a set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource life cycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean.
Tiffany Kelly is founder of Beyond Bamboo, a global community of sustainable products, services and suppliers working as a collective to restore and rejuvenate the planet. With a marketplace, a B2B supplier portal, a knowledge hub and a team of passionate people dedicated to triple bottom line reporting, Beyond Bamboo aims to help us all do well by doing good.
*Research carried out by Ginger Comms on behalf of E.ON in October 2021 with 1,500 respondents