Definitions and references for the eco-newbie.
by : 

Maggie Feeney

February 1, 2013

Eco-friendly. Organic. Upcycled. Sustainable. However you describe it, going green has caught on in a big way. Customers are more aware of the benefits of being a conscious consumer—environmental, social, personal—and are putting their money where their values are. Green consumers are willing to pay extra for their environmentally and socially responsible purchases, especially when they can support a local business and get a superior product in the process. Translation: People will pay more … but they also expect more. With so many high-quality, unique, good-for-you eco-products to choose from these days, now is a great time to give green style a try.


  • Carbon Footprint: A measure of one’s environmental impact in terms of the amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide.
  • Compostable: Able to be broken down into simpler, safe, and usable substances (e.g., mulch) in a relatively short time by naturally occurring organisms.
  • Eco-Friendly/Eco-Conscious: Terms used to describe a product or service that is more sensitive and/or less harmful to the environment.
  • Fair Trade: Products from farmers and workers who are justly treated and compensated, employ sustainable business practices, and receive funding to empower their communities. The nonprofit Fair Trade USA is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the U.S.
  • Green: Eco-friendly, sustainable, caring for the Earth.
  • Greenwashing: Unsubstantiated labeling of products or services as “eco-friendly” or other similar terms as a sales tactic to appeal to eco-conscious buyers.
  • Reclaimed: Salvaged materials that are reused and refurbished, such as reusing old flooring in a new house.
  • Recyclable: A resource that can be reprocessed and used again (e.g., glass and plastic bottles).
  • Renewable: Able to be replaced or replenished, either by the earth’s natural processes or by human action. Air, water, and forests are often considered renewable resources.
  • Sustainable: Capable of being maintained at a steady level without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage.
  • Upcycled: New, better-quality products made from existing materials (e.g., scarves knitted from recycled T-shirts or necklaces made from vintage buttons).
  • USDA Certified Organic: Products confirmed by the USDA to be made with 100 percent organic ingredients and without the use of toxins, pesticides, fertilizers, synthetic growth hormones, antibiotics, or artificial ingredients.


Maggie Feeney is the editor of Retailing Insight magazine.