The past few decades have seen the coinage and indeed, the copious bandying-about of, the term ‘eco-friendly’. You might have heard it used to describe things as various as products, businesses and lifestyle choices. While the term has achieved ubiquity, it’s not always clear precisely what it refers to. Just what constitutes eco-friendliness? What does the term even mean?
Origins of the word
Let’s begin with some etymology. The ‘eco’ prefix is short for ‘ecologically’; it is attached to everything concerned with the environment – from eco-communes (comprised, naturally, of eco-warriors whose children attend eco-schools) to eco-crafting. Like much of modern English, the term can be traced back to Ancient Greek – specifically to the word ‘oîkos’, meaning house, or dwelling. From there it migrated through Rome and France before being adopted by the English.
What is eco-friendliness today?
One might therefore define eco-friendly as anything which treats planet Earth as one might treat one’s home – which, in a very real sense, it is. This means treating it with respect, keeping it clean and even worshipping it in some places of the world and within certain religions and cultures.
To be eco-friendly is to behave in a way which is sustainable, ethical and altruistic. Blithely consuming resources without giving a hoot for everyone else’s concerns, as we humans are guilty of doing for so long, is somewhat at odds with this.
When plastic was first introduced, humankind marvelled at its cheapness and durability. Who, after all, would want a wooden chair when one can have a plastic one at a fraction of the cost? Unfortunately, this durability came at a considerable environmental cost. Things which don’t decay have a habit of piling up – as anyone who’s ever seen a landfill full of plastic bags will attest. Travel to the countryside and drop a four-pack of beer and the plastic will remain long after the metal has rusted to dust.
Eco-friendly materials are those which are biodegradable – those which will rot once disposed of. Moreover, eco-friendly materials are those which can be used over and over again are more eco-friendly than those which must be disposed of after just a single use.
For this reason, recycled goods are preferable to non-recycled goods, since their impact upon the environment is restricted. For this reason, many governments have introduced measures with which to encourage recycling. Of course, one cannot rely entirely on the government to legislate recycling out of existence – environmentally conscious people must also make environmentally conscious choices about the sorts of products they buy.
Materials make up only a small part of what goes into an item – we’re concerned also about the labour and manufacturing methods which went into turning those goods from raw materials into finished products.
Though the world is smaller than ever, there still exist a few nooks and crannies where artistic tradition has yet to be steamrollered by corporate forces. In these corners you’ll find the sorts of items which are lacking in the modern world – unique, hand-crafted, original items.
Moreover, the skills used to craft these items are passed down from generation to generation – sometimes over hundreds of years. Those skills have an ecological value in the same way that a tree or a bird does and preserving them is therefore an eco-friendly thing to do.
Treating workers in a compassionate way is, therefore almost by definition, mandatory for any business which wishes to be considered eco-friendly. This is particularly so in poorer countries which lack worker rights like the minimum wage and restricted hour days – flaws which unscrupulous employers might take advantage of.
How can we be more eco-friendly?
It’s all very well saying this. Actually doing things in order to preserve the environment is a different matter entirely. As consumers, much of our influence lies with the purchasing decisions we make. When considering whether to buy an item, we might form a list of concerns. On this list might be the item’s quality, its convenience and – of course – its price.
On this list of concerns, an item’s environmental impact features increasingly highly. This means that companies are increasingly eager to tout their eco-friendliness in order to persuade us of their moral worth. Of course, these claims are made whether they’re merited or not and so it often falls to the consumer to sort the pretenders from the truly eco-friendly. For this reason a great deal of cynicism has arisen about ethically-sourced products and environmental-friendliness in general. It is, after all, quite easy to clothe a mass-produced product in the language of environmentalism. This dishonesty has become so prevalent that it’s acquired a special term – ‘greenwashing’.
For this reason it is especially important that consumers look to see exactly the methods used by the company. Fortunately, there do exist many genuinely eco-friendly companies out there. It is the role of the eco-friendly shopper to sort through them. And of course Ian Snow are proud to be one of those eco-friendly companies.