Why “Eco-friendly” is like nails on a chalk board.

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By Andrew Beauchamp, Project Coordinator

As an environmentally conscious individual who looks to reduce my impact through the goods and services I purchase, I often hear or see the phrase “eco-friendly” in advertisements. Thanks to the new FTC Green Guides, claims like this are no longer allowed to be made on packaging and advertisements. Unfortunately, this won’t mean the phrase will automatically disappear from the American lexicon, and I must continue to endure this irritation.

Why is it so annoying to me, you ask? Because no products and services are “friendly” to the environment. Yes, they may not be toxic and may have recyclable or biodegradable packaging, thus having lesser impacts; but their manufacture and use inherently consume resources and have an impact on the environment.

Very few products and services that American consumers purchase could truly be considered friendly to the environment. For example, environmentally preferable paint has fewer impacts on the environment than conventional paint, such as a reduction to their contribution to air pollution, but they still require proper disposal because at the end of the day the product is still toxic to most things.

“Very few products and services that American consumers purchase could truly be considered friendly to the environment.”

When dealing with a complex system such as ecology (where the eco in eco-friendly comes from), there are no black and white solutions; everything has some impact. When you look at the products on store shelves (or online too!) they should now include clarifying information about their environmental attributes instead of just general statements of “greenness.” This is a good thing, and it will be start to educate consumers about sustainability and the different impacts a product has.

If you are looking for a way to generally talk about products and services that are better for the environment, refer to them as environmentally preferable. The comparative nature of the word “preferable” allows you to denote they are a step in the right direction, but not benign, and allows for the follow-up question of why they are preferable. The more we get people asking why, the better informed we’ll all be.

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