What is the difference between Sustainable and Eco-friendly?

Sustainable or Eco-Friendly? ♻️ These terms are often used interchangeably, which can be confusing. So what's the difference between the two?
April 11, 2022
3 minutes

Have you ever wondered about the difference between sustainability and eco-friendliness? We’re all being encouraged in this day and age to live a more sustainable or eco-friendly lifestyle. However, it’s often unclear what these terms refer to specifically.

With this in mind, we’re looking at the main differences between sustainability and eco-friendliness and what this might mean for your own lifestyle changes. After all, it’s becoming easier than ever before to change how you live and work to lead an environmentally conscious lifestyle – and this is something that’s important for both businesses and consumers to consider as a result.

Sustainability vs. Eco-Friendliness:

We’re all being encouraged to lead a “greener” lifestyle these days, but there are so many different terms spiraling around that this can often seem a little tricky to understand. Indeed, in many cases, eco-friendliness and sustainability are often used interchangeably; however, the reality is slightly different.

In fact, these two terms are actually distinct from each other, although both still contribute to leading a greener lifestyle overall.

What Does Sustainable Mean?

First of all, let’s consider what sustainable actually means. The concept of sustainability, in essence, covers the long-term benefits of a product for either social, environmental, or economic purposes; however, in the context of green living, sustainable means that an action will have positive benefits on the environment.

For example, wood is often considered a sustainable resource since it can be regrown once a tree has been cut down – meaning that, in the long-term, the total number of trees used for wood and paper manufacturing would likely stay stable.

By contrast, the classic example – fossil fuels – are unsustainable as their extraction directly damages the environment, and they are not likely to renew with time. In addition, their use directly impacts the environment both in the short and long-term perspectives, which contradicts the concept of sustainability.

In short, an environmentally sustainable product needs to meet two criteria:

  1. It must benefit the environment, the economy, and/or society.
  2. It must not harm the environment, economy, or society directly (such as through pollution).

What Does Eco-Friendly Mean?

We’ve outlined sustainability thus far – but what about eco-friendliness? Well, this is a little difficult to define, as there’s no exact guideline for an eco-friendly product; there are also no certifications schemes meeting this definition. However, in most accepted circles, eco-friendly relates to products and activities that do no or minimal harm to the environment.

Eco-friendly may, for example, mean that the manufacturing process is less harmful to the environment – maybe relying on fewer (but not no) fossil fuels during the manufacturing process.

These lower impacts may make the product eco-friendly compared to other products, but they would still do harm in the long term.

What’s the Difference?

At this point, we’ve summarized what eco-friendly and sustainable mean – but what’s the difference? The main difference between eco-friendly and sustainable is in regards to damage done to the environment; a sustainable product will actually benefit the environment with no direct damage, whereas an eco-friendly product typically does less damage than the norm.

In addition, sustainable is a much broader term, covering the environment, the economy, and society; eco-friendly focuses solely on environmental perspectives. For example, rewilding all or most of our productive farmland would be eco-friendly, but it wouldn’t necessarily be sustainable for the country’s economy and society.

It wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate to say that sustainable products are also eco-friendly; however, not all eco-friendly products necessarily meet the criteria for sustainability.

Final Thoughts

When it comes to living an environmentally conscious lifestyle, both sustainability and eco-friendly living have a role to play. And while there are subtle differences between these concepts, combining both into your lifestyle can be a good way to try and minimize your environmental impact overall.

Hopefully, today’s guide may have given you a little more inspiration on how this could work for your own needs. But, if you have any further questions about sustainable and eco-friendly principles, please don’t hesitate to contact our experts to learn more.