Terminology in the Zero-Waste Community

 You might be wondering…what the heck is the difference between “sustainable” verses “eco-friendly” or even the term “green” and other buzz words used in marketing. Many people use these terms interchangeably and that can create a lot of confutation.

Have no fear, I’m going to break it down real basic. Without further ado here is a breakdown of terminology used frequently in the zero-waste community.


The definition according to the United Nations is “a process or state can be maintained at a certain level for as long as is wanted.” These processes or states needs to "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

To simply put: Sustainability focuses on the future.

Now here is where it can get confusing…sustainability includes “eco-friendly” and “green” but that doesn’t mean that that “eco-friendly” and “green” are sustainable. Here is what I mean, a product can be made out of an “eco-friendly” material and the manufacture of that product can be ‘green” but if it takes a bunch of energy to either make or get to you (carbon foot print of shipping and delivery) then that product is not sustainable.


Eco- Friendly

This just means that it is not harmful to the environment.

This is often used to describe products or practices that “conserve resources like water and energy”.


less harmful or more sensitive to the environment

“green” is a big buzz word used in marketing (and often used in green-washing, for more information view my video explaining what green-washing is here)


Organic is a legal term by the USDA to certify products including food and beauty items. Basically, the term “organic” is a certification that means that item was “produced or involving production without the use of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or other artificial agents.



This is a relatively new term and is just referring to consumer awareness around the environmental and health impacts of a product or service. This term is describing a kind of person rather than a specific type of product or service. For an example a “conscious” consumer may be more aware of the harsh conditions of fast fashion garment workers, this “consciousness” or knowledge of working conditions can often lead to choosing not to participate or support industries that exploit both human and environmental resources.


Zero-Waste is also a growing grassroots movement that addresses personal accountability, aims to reduce consumption and thus what is thrown away. On top of that, zero-waste also addresses and challenges they entire system as a whole and how we create, consume, and ultimately dispose of “waste”

Low- Impact

Low impact is again, another relatively new term made popular by influencer Sustainably Vegan. This term can and IS interchangeable to zero-waste and that is because…zero-waste is not attainable. This in of itself discourages many from trying to reduce their impact and so “low-impact” is a better term to describe the movement and lifestyle then zero-waste.