Do you want your furniture business to be sustainable, but find yourself bamboozled by all the eco-friendly and environmental terminology? More and more consumers are becoming concerned about what they buy and interested in how they can make a difference, and brands across most industries are making all sorts of green claims – but sometimes it can feel hard to make sense of the jargon and know for sure what it all really means. Here, Beyond Bamboo’s founder Tiffany Kelly explains what the terms mean, so they can be applied appropriately …

Research conducted recently by E.ON  found that almost two thirds (64%) of those questioned said they want to take climate action but feel overwhelmed by the numbers or jargon, or are often put off by the lack of information available on the topic. The same study found that four in five (82%) would do more for the environment if they saw less ‘carbon jargon’ and instead received simpler information about what they could do to reduce their impact on the planet.

Simplifying the language may help you to understand properly the benefits of a cleaner, greener and more sustainable lifestyle. Here is Beyond Bamboo’s glossary of green terms, to help you navigate these green claims and eco buzzwords. This will help you make the best choices for you, your tech business and – most importantly – the health of our planet.

Net zero

Net zero refers to achieving an equal balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and the amount removed from the atmosphere. This can be done by changing business processes to reduce emissions in the first place – for example, by switching to renewable energy or minimising plastic in products or packaging – while also actively removing the remaining greenhouse gases from the atmosphere, perhaps by contributing to projects that conserve natural habitats or planting trees to absorb carbon. 

You can also subscribe to have carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and stored safely underground, where it turns to stone. The term tends to refer to current emissions, not historic ones.

Carbon offsetting

Offsetting is a way of paying for others to reduce emissions or absorb CO2 to compensate for a company’s own emissions. For example, a business may pay towards tree planting or the delivery of energy-efficient cooking stoves to communities in developing countries. 

However, brands should be doing that as well as cutting emissions directly, not just substituting them. Offsetting doesn’t actually cancel out – or ‘offset’ – the emissions to which they are linked. Also, contributing to a project that was going ahead anyway doesn’t help remove extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. So offsetting is beset with problems, which is why it is falling out of favour.

Carbon neutral

Carbon neutrality is a state of net-zero carbon dioxide emissions. This can be achieved by balancing emissions of carbon dioxide with its removal (often through carbon offsetting), or by eliminating emissions completely. Again, this is generally used to describe current carbon dioxide emissions, not historic ones (which also need to be removed).

Carbon positive

This is a step beyond carbon neutral. Once net-zero or carbon-neutral status is achieved, a business can start to tackle removing its historic emissions or, for new businesses, additional CO2 can be removed to create a wider environmental benefit.

Vegan and vegan friendly

If something is vegan, it does not contain any animal ingredients or animal-derived ingredients. Often brands claim a food item is ‘vegan friendly’ if it contains no animal ingredients, but was made in a factory where other non-vegan items are made. The terminology is used to indicate that they cannot guarantee there is absolutely no cross contamination (but, on balance, the product can be considered vegan). 

Vegan should also mean that no animals or animal products were used in any part of the product’s creation.

Animal exploitation for food and products is directly related to biodiversity and wildlife loss, either through the loss of habitat, the slaughter and starving of wild animals, overfishing and/or the pollution of ecosystems. Livestock farming is a major contributor of greenhouse gases and deforestation.

Cruelty free

Cruelty free is a label for products that do not harm or kill animals anywhere along their supply chain. Products tested on animals are not considered cruelty free, since these tests are often painful and cause the suffering and death of animals. Look for the Leaping Bunny logo to be sure an item is genuinely cruelty free.

Plant based

The term ‘plant based’ has been thrown around a lot in recent times. This move away from meat is fantastic news for the environment, our health and for animals. Big companies are now seeing the marketing value of ‘plant based’, realising that people are more educated than ever about the environmental impact of food and the health benefits of eating plant-based foods rather than animal-based ones. 

Though some people, including food bloggers, may use the terms ‘plant based’ and ‘vegan’ interchangeably, plant-based is an umbrella term and does not always equate to being vegan – so do check the labels and ask if the item really is vegan. Eating plant-based foods is the single biggest way we can reduce our impact on the environment as individuals.

Biodegradable/compostable

Biodegradable materials or products are those that are able to break down to their basic components when given the right conditions and presence of micro-organisms, fungi or bacteria. This is great, as it keeps the item out of landfill and saves space. 

Some items are biodegradable/compostable in home composting bins, while others require industrial composting silos where very high temperatures are reached. So, check if it is suitable for home composting, as you can do this yourself without the need for additional transport, and it also indicates that the item will break down relatively quickly. Once degraded/composted the item leaves nothing harmful behind.

Accreditation

Accreditation is an independent, third-party evaluation by an assessment body (such as a certification body, inspection body or laboratory) against recognised standards. A brand having gained an industry accreditation ensures that due diligence has been done for that particular claim. 

Be aware that not all accreditation schemes are created equal, so make sure the assessment body is widely recognised or else transparent in how it establishes the validity of claims.

Sustainable

This word is really thrown around a lot these days, but its real meaning is seldom well understood. Simply put, sustainable products and practices are those that do not jeopardise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. 

It has become too broad a term with such little accountability that it can hardly be taken at face value. Brands that are operating “more sustainably” should always explain specifically how they are doing so.

Zero waste

Zero waste is a set of principles focused on waste prevention that encourages the redesign of resource lifecycles so that all products are reused. The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills, incinerators or the ocean.