Learning the Lingo to Go Green

The human instinct is to trust and believe. That’s a beautiful thing.

In order to immerse ourselves in the sustainable, ethically-sourced, bioavailable world rising up around us, we’ve got to understand the terms being used. 

Otherwise, you run the risk of endorsing and empowering the wrong companies – and not the ones who are really out to make a powerful difference in this world.

Not to mention, there are plenty of us who simply give up when confronted with the vast array of new-fangled vocabulary, utterly disoriented, frustrated, and likely to simply return to the comfort of our favored time-tested brands.

The problem is that those brands have no monetary obligation to change the way they source, manufacture, market, package, and ship. Their legacy is already rooted in the hearts of millions of Americans. And truthfully, upgrading their systems is often costlier than they’re willing to do.

When those brands decide to appeal to conscious consumers, they often do what’s called “greenwashing” – in essence, they run marketing campaigns with vague terminology that sound environmentally friendly. At least, enough for an undiscerning buyer not to investigate too much. 

So in an effort to continually educate ourselves as conscious consumers, we’re going to demystify some of this language.

Fair Trade Company: If a company is “Fair Trade Certified”, it means that the World Fair Trade Organization has declared that company’s practices, specifically regarding worker’s rights, to be ethically above board. 

It exists to protect marginalized textile producers from having their products bought cheap and sold higher, to promote equality in trade deals, to dent fast fashion through its 76-country collaboration all of which are committed to putting “people and planet first”, and to ensure humane treatment of employees.

When you see that “Fair Trade” symbol on a product, you know that its lineage has been vetted by this organization. Other similar organizations include the Global Organic Textile Standard, Cradle to Cradle, and the Better Cotton Initiative.

Bioavailable: You would see this word applied to supplements, vitamins, and the like. 

It refers to how easily the nutrients can be absorbed by the intestines and made ready for use throughout the body. Something with high bioavailability suggests that most of the nutrients you’re consuming are able to be used by the body in its activity.

Wildcrafted: Wildcrafting is a bit like large-scale foraging. 

In order to call your resourcing “wildcrafting”, the botanicals from which you’re extracting plant matter must be uncultivated. You must not harm the current or future production of said plant in removing it for medicinal or food purposes. 

Sometimes, things like wildcrafted sources will hike up the price of a product because it isn’t sourced from an endless coffer – it’s ecologically precious, hard to get to, and carefully removed. 

Ethically-sourced: To call something ethically-sourced is to get specific about its supply chain. Basically, it refers to the way materials were obtained in order to make a product. 

Did you change the ecosystem of a habitat in order to get to this raw material? Did you affect the lives of those who live in that habitat? Did you pay industry standard prices for it? Did you harm the environment through obtaining it?

Ethically-sourced is unregulated, though, so if you see the label, do some research! A true ethically-sourced product should be able to explain why.

Sustainably Made: Another unregulated label, this claim requires some digging as well. 

Generally speaking, if something is “sustainably made,” the environment wasn’t harmed in its making, and won’t be harmed through its use or through its disposal. 

That may mean a product has been made with recycled materials, can be recycled itself, is a Fair Trade product, or many other things. 

Non-GMO: GMO stands for genetically modified organism, so non-GMO just means it hasn’t been genetically altered. Whatever you are eating grew as nature intended it and wasn’t interrupted by mankind in order to be bigger, juicier, plumper, or more flavorful.

The debate still rages over whether or not some foods are allowed to be genetically-modified. Commonly, milk, corn, zucchini, sugar, canola oil, papaya, and soy are GMOs. 

Some research says GMOs are dangerous because of toxins, pesticides, and man’s undue influence. Some are unclear. But health companies try to steer away from GMOs in general, using only what exists already in nature.

Zero Waste: Typically applied to products, zero waste refers to the overall effect that a product’s life cycle has on the environment. 

The shipping materials of the product should decompose back into the Earth from whence they came, and the product itself should have caused no harm to the Earth in its making. 

Again, it’s unregulated. Look up why the company called themselves or that product “zero waste.”

Carbon Neutral: Here, we’re talking about carbon footprint.

Since carbon footprint is measurable, there are a fair amount of certifying companies designed to confirm a product or company’s carbon neutrality.

To be carbon neutral, a product must either expel no emissions through its production or use usually through renewable energy, or has to balance emissions through carbon removal – think of companies that will plant a certain number of trees per product purchased, or fund wind and solar projects. 

Certified Organic: The USDA, United States Drug Administration, must corroborate that no illegal fertilizers or pesticides were used in the growing of a plant.

They also can’t have been genetically modified and can have had no contact with antibiotics or growth hormones. 

Keep in mind, organic doesn’t mean zero waste, carbon neutral, or even sustainable. It only means those three things.

Stay tuned for a continuation of this green-glossary as we advance our navigation of the eco-friendly space…

And let us know if there are any terms in particular you’ve been confused about! 




Third-party eco-friendly consumer advocacy group:

Recycled Content:

Renewable materials:


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Dr. Pedram Shojai

NY Times Best Selling author and film maker. Taoist Abbot and Qigong master. Husband and dad. I’m here to help you find your way and be healthy and happy. I don’t want to be your guru…just someone who’ll help point the way. If you’re looking for a real person who’s done the work, I’m your guy. I can light the path and walk along it with you but can’t walk for you.