A Green Vocabulary

Contributed by Bob Folkart

The international passion to protect our planet from the ravages of pollution and to preserve our natural resources for future generations haves become an everyday fact of life.  With international support by "green" political parties, consumer organiszations, celebrities and politicians, the green movement has become a powerful force with an agenda that needs to be addressed by industry, politicians and consumers.

But can we fully understand environmental concerns and energy implications without a working knowledge of basic green vocabulary? Can we properly compare the organic and non-organic products that we decide to eat or wear every day? In essence, to think and live green you need to speak and understand green.

Understanding some key green terms and their implications can help us evaluate alternatives between our planet and sacrificing aspects of our personal lifestyle. It can help us decide how we cast our vote or spend our money or how we live our lives.

The following represents what is best described as a green vocabulary of definitions and commentary to help eco-oriented consumers make informed green decisions.

  • Organic identifies products made under the authority of the Organic Foods Production Act. Organic production guidelines are established to use organic materials and practices that improve ecological balance. Organic production incorporates agricultural system components to enhance natural biological systems.
  • Organic agriculture is an ecological farming system that promotes natural chemical and biological cycles that improve soil fertility and maintains a balanced and productive farming system. Any products introduced to this system for fertility or pest protection are of natural composition. It eliminates the use of harmful synthetic pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers, growth stimulants or antibiotics. These essential restrictions can reduce contamination or pollution to our air, water or food supply.
  • Natural Fibres are "certified" organic fibres derived from organic agriculture such as cotton, bamboo and hemp.
  • Certified organic cotton is derived from organic agriculture. The cotton is grown without artificial pesticides or fertilizers. Conventional cotton farming ranks about fourth in the use of pesticides in the US. Several of the top pesticides used in non-organic cotton farming are EPA recognized carcinogens. It takes one-third of a pound of pesticides and synthetic fertilizers to make one organic T-shirt disregarding the use of any toxic dyes (Organic Trade Association). A typical organic T-tee shirt is also about the same weight but without these harmful chemicals. Organic cotton is produced using conservation minded or "sustainable" approaches to crop production. Such practices help to retain and promote soil fertility and the natural recycling of soil resources.
  • Organic certification is provided by various organiszations. The most widely recognized recognised standards are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) which is the basis for the statement "100% certified organic cotton" used by many green companies.
  • Fair labour practices are not necessarily restricted to agriculture but generally support fair wages and healthy working conditions.
  • Fair trade certification "...guarantees consumers that strict economic, social and environmental criteria were met in the production and trade of an agricultural product." (www.transfairusa.org).
  • Sweatshop-free describes the absence of manufacturing conditions currently existing in many countries, referred to as "sweatshops". They are production facilities or factories where goods are produced cheaply by minimizing workers' salaries, and increasing working hours. Proper environmental health standards are diminished, yet demands for high levels of productivity still remain. These sweatshops may thrive from corporations seeking to increase profits by subcontracting inexpensive labour.
  • Sustainable means conserving and preserving limited natural resources and energy supplies. It is connected with the term "recycling" when natural products are re-used like rubber (for tires, shoes) or paper/trees (for books, business cards, magazines etc.), or wood (for recycled furniture). They are made from or made into recycled, carbon based products. A good example of preserving our resources is Trees for the Future, a charitable organization organisation dedicated to replacing and planting trees. Unfortunately, most of our energy production is derived from organic (carbon based) fossil fuels that cannot be recycled as compared to wind or solar energy. All of this is connected to our lifestyle and our "carbon footprint" discussed next.
  • Carbon footprint is a descriptor of environmental impact. It describes the consumption of carbon based natural resources or the production of carbon by-products like carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or "greenhouse emissions". It's about lifestyle and the amount of carbon based resources we consume through transportation, climate control, manufacturing etc. Basically it relates to how much each of us consume in terms of natural resources to meet our needs. In general each of us should be committed to reducing the size of our "footprint" to sustain resources for present and future generations.
  • Eco-fashion is a general term describing organic clothing that has addressed the needs of the environment as well as socially responsible working conditions.
  • Eco-friendly suggests a product or process than has a reduced impact on the environment.
  • Green is a generally positive term referring to the environment, organics or even a green lifestyle.
  • Green lifestyle or green living describes a lifestyle reflecting a strong commitment to the environment. In addition, it addresses compassionate and positive thinking. It means choosing a life with charitable deeds and practices, reflecting compassion for the environment and others. Green living is being proactive and incorporates spiritual growth leading to ethical thinking.
  • Social responsibility can be defined as accepting responsibility for others and taking action against social injustice. It includes meeting the needs of others through charitable giving.
  • Charitable giving describes a sense of genuine compassion and reacting to it with charitable practices towards others.