what's the difference between eco friendly and sustainable

Sustainable Home vs. Eco Friendly Home – What’s the Difference?

  • Written By: Shannon Bedrich

  • Sustainable living, green living, eco friendly homes. Are they all just marketing terms? Or do they mean something?

    Eco-friendly focuses on reducing harm to the environment, while sustainability considers the future impact of today’s actions. In this article, we’ll dive into the definitions of each term, and provide a case study example to further illustrate the difference.

    What does Eco Friendly Mean?

    Eco-friendly means not harmful to the environment. Eco-friendly products use green manufacturing methods that use fewer resources. Or they use plant-based materials rather than chemicals.

    But in the past, some companies have abused this term. To help with this, the most recent version of the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides (section 260.4) warns manufacturers not to make “broad, unqualified claims that a product is environmentally friendly or eco-friendly” without backing it up with specifics.

    The bottom line? Any product labeled eco friendly should be accompanied by how and why it’s more environmentally beneficial than other products.

    eco friendly labels show products that don't harm the environment

    What does Sustainable Mean?

    Sustainability has a more specific definition, by the United Nations, no less.

    A product or company is sustainable when it is “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

    United Nations

    Sustainable companies are those that consider environmental, economic and social impacts in their operations. Sustainable products use less energy (and produce less carbon) during the manufacturing process. And sustainable products or companies reduce or cause no pollution.

    Typically, the product itself isn’t labeled sustainable. Unless it’s manufactured by a company that has set and met sustainability objectives. More likely you would see labeling that says eco friendly product and then a backstory on what makes it sustainable as well.

    eco friendly products and sustainable products and companies address their impact now and in the future. Environmental, social and governance impacts are part of sustainability.

    What’s the Difference Between a Sustainable Product vs. Eco Friendly Product?

    Many consumers and the press use sustainable and eco friendly interchangeably. While they are similar, they are not the same.

    Eco friendly focuses on the immediate impact to the earth. Sustainability focuses on the impact on future generations. The company must also operate to provide economic, social and environmental benefits.

    It might be easier to understand with a fictitious example.

    • ZaZa is a new laundry detergent. Instead of a liquid, it’s laundry sheets that dissolve in the washing machine. This eliminates plastic packaging and it has no phosphates. It’s packed flat, in a recycled cardboard carton, sent regular mail in a recycled envelope. The product is labeled environmentally friendly.
    • However, ZaZa is manufactured in a factory overseas to save costs. The company pays laborers lower than the standard wage in that country. The factory is powered by a coal power plant with high carbon emissions.
    • So while ZaZa can be labeled as eco friendly, it does not meet the qualification of a sustainable product, because it’s not produced in a sustainable manner.

    When purchasing eco friendly products, you should research the company that you are buying from. It’s one thing to say that a product is environmentally safe. And you can label it as such by meeting the FTC requirements.

    But is the company behind it committed to sustainability? Or are they just riding the wave of green products? They may be “greenwashing” their brand. Greenwashing means a company says they are green. However, behind the scenes, it’s all marketing. They aren’t fully committed to the environment or sustainability in their production or their mission.

    What is a Sustainable Home?

    A sustainable home is an energy efficient home that’s built or retrofitted in a way that uses human resources, building materials, energy and water in an efficient manner.

    For example, a sustainable home may have the following:

    • Passive solar design – south-facing windows that heat the home in winter that can be shuttered or shaded in summer
    • Heat pump HVAC system – these systems use heat from the ambient environment to heat or cool your home.
    • Insulated concrete forms – concrete vs. wood is cheaper and more energy efficient.
    • Recycled materials – reclaimed wood for your flooring
    • Landscaping – trees and shrubs that shade the home and the HVAC unit
    • Cool roofing – reflective roofing dissipates heat and lowers energy bills
    • Triple paned windows – maintain the building envelope, keeping conditioned air inside.
    • Solar panels – on-site energy generation (where you can sell electricity back to the grid!)
    • Water conservation – products with the EPA’s WaterSense label
    • Energy Star appliances and equipment
    • LED lighting
    • Water capture systems – using rainwater drainage for your greywater (dishwashing and flushing toilets)

    If you live in an area of the US where electricity is deregulated, like Texas, you may also be able to buy green electricity plans. These are electricity plans with 100% wind or solar. In some states, like Ohio, you can also purchase carbon neutral natural gas plans where the gas supplier offsets your home’s carbon monoxide production.

    FAQ: How do I make my home more sustainable?

    If you are starting from the ground up, you can build a sustainable home by designing your home with the environment in mind. You’ll want to work with a builder that specializes in green architecture.

    If you are retrofitting your home, implement energy efficiency tips to reduce your environmental impact. As an additional benefit, you’ll save on your electric bill.

    You can support sustainable living by making informed, considered decisions. Think about what you buy, where you shop and how you consume products and services. Sustainable living means you make decisions not out of the immediate convenience. You make decisions with an eye toward the future. Sustainable living supports companies that use sustainable manufacturing processes.

    What is an Eco Friendly Home?

    Whereas a sustainable home focuses on the physical shell of the home and its construction, any home can be an eco friendly home.

    By living a sustainable lifestyle, you are making an impact on the environment around you. And you’re protecting limited resources for future generations.

    Here are some ways you can make your home environmentally friendly:

    About Shannon Bedrich

    Shannon Bedrich, co-founded ElectricityPlans in 2016 after shopping for electricity rates using a confusing state-sponsored website. A CPA and our CFO, Shannon is the one that deciphers the fine print on each electricity plan. Outside of work, Shannon enjoys spending time with family, rooting for the Aggies, and exploring all that Houston has to offer.

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