In recent years, terms like "going green" and "eco-friendly" have become buzz words on talk shows, commercials and product packaging. The term "eco-friendly" has been used for so many different products and practices, its meaning is in danger of being lost. By understanding the true meaning of eco-friendly, you can implement the practices that will lead to healthier living for the planet and its inhabitants, big and small.
Eco-friendly literally means earth-friendly or not harmful to the environment (see References 1). This term most commonly refers to products that contribute to green living or practices that help conserve resources like water and energy. Eco-friendly products also prevent contributions to air, water and land pollution. You can engage in eco-friendly habits or practices by being more conscious of how you use resources.
Making a truly eco-friendly product keeps both environmental and human safety in mind. At a minimum, the product is non-toxic. Other eco-friendly attributes include the use of sustainably grown or raised ingredients, produced in ways that do not deplete the ecosystem. Organic ingredients or materials are grown without toxic pesticides or herbicides. Products with "made from recycled materials" contain glass, wood, metal or plastic reclaimed from waste products and made into something new. Biodegradable products break down through natural decomposition, which is less taxing on landfills and the ecosystem as a whole.
You can develop eco-friendly habits to help you use less and make the most of what you have. Turn off lights in empty rooms and use a programmable thermostat so you're only heating or cooling your home when it's occupied (see References 2). Businesses can also institute such practices, in addition to bigger initiatives, such as company-wide recycling programs to conserve natural resources and telecommuting for employees, which decreases air pollution and fuel consumption by eliminating daily travel to work.
Companies sometimes label their products "eco-friendly" or "environmentally friendly" without them truly being so. Called "greenwashing," marketing campaigns perpetuate this practice, aimed at helping companies increase their product sales by appealing to ecologically conscious buyers. To avoid purchasing "greenwashed" products, look for products approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Star program or an ecologically conscious consumer-advocacy group such as the Green Good Housekeeping Seal.