Defining Sustainability

July 11, 2019

The rate of consumption is growing as such it is crucial that we live in a way which causes the least amount of damage to the environment. The impact we have is heavily based on the simple decisions we make daily. Which bag should I use for my groceries? Which energy source do I go for? Can I walk or should I drive? In these moments of decision, we often feel guided and reassured by looking out for certain keywords. Unfortunately, despite trying to live with the best intent some of these words and terms are not quite what they seem.

As the awareness for the wellbeing of the environment has grown, so has the amount of “greenwashing”. You might have heard of it before. It’s a certain form of “whitewashing” which means glossing over bad behaviour with misleading information. Greenwashing focuses on the company’s impact on the environment. Greenwashing companies aim to appear as environmentally friendly as possible while not living up to the illusion that they’re creating.

There are many aspects to greenwashing. The main thing to look out for is the terminology that is used to sell products. Companies can take advantage of terms that don’t have a specific legal definition yet. They can also choose to display the information in an ambiguous manner. The most commonly used ambiguous terms are ones such as: “ecological”, “biodegradable”, “sustainable”, “cruelty-free”, “nontoxic”, etc. Most of these adjectives can be used in almost any product because of their vague definitions.

Let’s take a closer look at the terms “biodegradable” and “compostable” for example. Most of us will feel better after buying the biodegradable option over the non-biodegradable one, but should we really? “Biodegradable” is defined as something that is “capable of being decomposed by bacteria or other living organisms and thereby avoiding pollution”. This itself unfortunately doesn’t guarantee that it won’t harm the environment. Almost anything can decompose in nature if given thousands of years of time.

The term “compostable” on the other hand is defined as something that can that “can be made into compost”, aka. “decayed organic material used as a fertiliser for growing plants”. In order for an item to turn into compost and to be used as fertiliser, it must be free of toxins and decompose relatively quickly. Sounds like a better deal doesn’t it? Even if you decide not to compost it yourself, at least it will decompose faster thus causing less harm to the environment.

What should one think about products that are labeled as recyclable then? When buying a recyclable plastic bag for example, it’s important to understand that the thing that matters is what happens to it after its use. It’s not about whether it CAN be recycled, but if it WILL be. Most of us feel like we’re making the better decision just when buying the recyclable bag. Take into consideration that It usually takes more energy to produce and most of us end up tossing it in the common waste with the rest of our trash, leading it to the landfill anyway.

What about the difference between ecological and environmentally friendly? They sound pretty much the same, right? That’s not exactly the case. Ecology itself, is the study of the relation between all living organisms and the environment they live in. The term “ecological” applies to the things that have something to do with this relationship. Since it doesn’t straight up mean that it won’t be harmful for the environment, it can be used in misleading ways.

The term environmentally friendly (eco-friendly) is the better word to look for. It has more concrete a definition. It straight up means “not harmful for the environment”. Have in mind that these terms might not still be legally defined in some countries thus might also end up being misused.

As I previously mentioned, there is more to greenwashing than just unclear terminology. A lot of it is focused on the design of the product. Due to the unclear design it might not be clear whether the product itself or just the packaging is biodegradable. It can also be something as simple as adding pictures of plants or animals on products or printing out a texture that looks like it’s made from recycled materials just to make it appear eco-friendlier.

Imagine a product that has a picture of a tree while its production is releasing tons of toxic waste into the soil and preventing the growth of an actual one. Or Imagine buying a solar powered phone charger to save some energy from a company who uses fossil fuels as their main source of energy. It’s good to have in mind that eco-friendly products may be produced by very non-eco-friendly companies. Unfortunately, there are no strict laws against hypocrisy.

To sum up here are some quick tips on how to avoid greenwashing:

● Look for the terms with solid definitions and certifications.

● Ask yourself whether they used more money on appearing “green” or on actually helping the environment?

● Look past the outlook of the product

● Do research on environmentally friendly companies

I know it might seem overwhelming to try to take all this into account when trying to make the smartest decision. That’s why here at Koepala, we aim to be as transparent as possible with our products, beliefs and motives to ensure you that you know exactly what you’re getting into or supporting. It’s important that we all aim to do our best to educate ourselves considering this matter and most importantly try to make an end to greenwashing.

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