In recent years, sustainability evolved from a simple catchphrase to a movement, a set of values, and a way of life. With such evolution, other buzzwords have emerged, each carrying their weight and significance in the growing dialogue around the environment.
Phrases like plant-based, vegan, eco-friendly, or carbon-natural are tossed around in everyday conversations recognized by both - consumers and businesses. “Want to grab a cappuccino on a Sunday walk? Try our organic coffee beans and support the farmers. Cravings for a burger? Try the new, plant-based meat option. Need to buy a new shampoo? Try the vegan one. Next flight to Denmark? Offset the carbon on your next flight.”
These buzzwords have burst out of their niche bubbles and are now a big part of our everyday lives. Yet, their meanings overlap due to their lack of regulation or over-simplistic use. And here we come - an enormous mishmash of terminology that silently raises the question - are these terms genuine indicators of environmental responsibility? Or are they simply just trendy labels used to greenwash minds?
So, let’s dive into a linguistic journey to untangle the true meaning of these ‘buzzwords’ and explore their concepts.
‘Vegan’ or ‘Veganism’ is all about choosing a way that does not include animal-derived substances and rejects their exploitation in any form. It goes far beyond just a diet, embracing areas like fashion and cosmetics, all driven by the ethical considerations for animal rights.
! Disclaimer: While vegan options are great, it is essential to look at the whole picture. Not everything labeled as ‘vegan’ is automatically sustainable. And now you may wonder, why? Well, a ‘vegan’ product can overshadow other important factors such as packaging, transportation, carbon footprint, or using plastics and other harmful substances. Don’t get us wrong. Choosing a vegan lifestyle is a wonderful choice, and definitely a step in the right direction. Just remember that there are still additional factors to consider for a fully sustainable way of living.
Curious to dive deeper? Read more in our previous blog.
In the scope of protecting animals, these terms are heard often, but many times misinterpreted. So, what sets them apart?
Products described as ‘cruelty-free’ promise that no animals have been harmed or used in the product’s testing – a commitment often visualized by the Leaping Bunny sign.
A heads-up: this still doesn’t indicate a 100% vegan product as animal-derived ingredients such as bee wax in your lip balm or honey and milk in shower gels may be present.
The less specific but frequently used term that casts a wider net is Animal-Friendly. It refers to the range of practices that are more humane towards animals and their living conditions. These apply to products aiming to reduce harm to animals or those made with consideration for animal welfare.
And just like cruelty-free, animal-friendly products may still contain animal-derived ingredients, for example, free-range eggs.
Plant-based is all about harnessing the power of plants, avoiding any animal-derived components to uphold ethical standards.
As recognized by The World Health Organization (WHO) for the European Region, the plant-based term has gained momentum as more people seek alternatives to traditional animal products to contribute to a more ethical choice. While opting for plant-based is a positive step forward, it’s important to remember that just like the term vegan, they don’t guarantee a completely sustainable approach.
While these two terms may sound like close cousins, they have distinct paths in their lifecycles. Drawing strength from once-living organisms and utilizing renewable resources is the essence of a bio-based product. These resources include byproducts such as our apple pomace waste, sourced from juice and cider producers, transformed into something new and beautiful. The beauty of bio-based is not just about minimizing the environmental toll associated with traditional production methods. It’s about shifting away from our dependence on resources such as petroleum, which leads to a smaller carbon footprint.
YET, there’s a twist in the tale… Bio-based doesn’t always mean biodegradable, as many of us may think!
Okay, let’s demystify it. Biodegradability is nature’s recycling process. Materials break down and return to earth often with the help of several microorganisms. It’s easy to assume but not always the case that all words starting with “BIO” naturally follow this path. Some bio-based products undergo chemical transformations or include additives that alter their ability to return to nature.
Upcycling is a creative way to give what was once a waste a new lease on life… Just with added value on top of that! At Beyond Leather, we believe that upcycling is a way forward. We see apple waste as a treasure, we treat it as an equal to virgin material and upcycle it into our next-gen material - Leap.
As highlighted in The WIPO research, such a creative and innovative approach not only reduces landfill waste and the dependence on raw or synthetic materials. But also, minimizes manufacturing demands and lowers carbon emissions. So, overall, the concept of upcycling goes a step further than recycling as it reduces both - waste and resource consumption at the same time.
Eco-friendliness or Green indicates the actual, environmental practices that don’t cause any additional harm or, at the very least, are gentle on the planet in the present. The Federal Trade Commission created a set of guidelines for companies to avoid misleading consumers by using this word, as the equation “eco-friendly ≠ sustainable” applies here as well. One of the main bullet points advises companies to be as clear and as specific as possible, providing solid evidence when claiming to be eco-friendly or green within their practices.
So this is a small hint for you - next time you question whether something is or isn’t eco-friendly, try to look for in-depth evidence and documents.
As mentioned in our previous blog post, the official meaning of sustainability, according to The United Nations, ensures that we’re meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
Simply, it goes beyond mere eco-friendliness. We consider the long-term consequences of today’s actions and embrace the environmental, social, and economic balance, ensuring that the resources we use today leave a full cup for tomorrow. Businesses striving for sustainability must consider these aspects. To clarify their sustainable efforts and avoid misleading conclusions, many are now becoming transparent about their LCA results.
So, how does a LCA showcase a commitment to a comprehensive approach to sustainability?
The lifespan of a product goes well beyond the short time we own it in our hands, and that is when LCA comes into play! Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is like having an investigator’s glasses on, examining the full scope of a product’s life.
Recognized by the Life Cycle Initiative as a proven method, LCA not only reveals answers to questions like the origins of raw materials or their environmental impact during production. It also outlines the aftermath of the product usage. As noted by the European Environment Agency, this “cradle-to-grave” analysis fosters life cycle thinking, guiding us to pinpoint the most significant environmental challenges that emerge throughout the product’s creation, use, and disposal.
Organic materials are born untouched by artificial chemicals, are minimally processed, and are free from GMOs (genetically modified organisms). They stand for the pillars of purity, supporting biodiversity and ecological balance in its rawest form.
So, untouched by chemicals and minimally processed. As simple as it sounds, it still does not automatically equate to being fully sustainable. And here comes the … WHY? In some specific cases, the way such products or materials are sourced and produced can be resource-intensive or harmful to ecosystems, casting a long shadow on their environmental footprint.
So, when you hear organic, think of something pure but not always perfectly green.
You may have encountered phrases such as responsible production or eco-conscious consumption when shopping online, for example. In essence, their meanings are about understanding the weight of our impact on both – the environment and the society. It involves making choices that are ethical, equitable, and environmentally kinder to the planet than the traditional ones - Just like bringing your bottle rather than using single-use plastics.
But what distinguishes and still binds these two terms into a common principle?
By being responsible, we express commitment to craft materials that uphold the previously mentioned values. In other words, companies are accountable for the actions made during the production and the overall impact of the product. The key difference is that responsible production is usually guided by regulations, social norms, or policies. For instance, ensuring fair labor practices in supply chains.
In reference to being eco-conscious, we choose to be aware and mindful. We make informed decisions that involve our personal values, and sense of moral duty to the planet and future generations. Suppose, researching and buying a product that has the least negative impact.
And how do we embrace these terms? Well, consumers' and companies' choices must be backed by comprehensive explanations or detailed documentation, ensuring that the actions align truthfully.
It has been quite a journey to navigate through the sustainability glossary, so let us share a few final insights from Beyond Leathers’ eyes.
Although these sustainability phrases are just fragments of a complex field, each paints a distinct color on the sustainability spectrum, shedding light onto various environmental aspects. Whether you're choosing a plant-based meal, looking for cruelty-free cosmetics, or researching the lifecycle of a product you purchase, you're contributing to a change. Try thinking of these terms as different lenses in your toolkit that help you view and understand your impact and the story that extends past the label.
Understanding these terms as more than just buzzwords, we acknowledge their significance as more than mere trends or greenwashing tools. In our eyes, they are crucial indicators directing us toward making informed choices when applied correctly.
So, keep exploring and questioning the validity of the sustainability terms used to describe your desired products. And remember, use them as tools for clarity and direction, not as hurdles.