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Sustainable Marketing Buzzwords

carbon literacy net-zero sustainability Aug 04, 2023

Clear the confusion and avoid greenwashing risks with this guide.

Wherever you are on your sustainability journey, the more accurate and transparent you are in your 'green' claims, the greater the trust you'll garner from your stakeholders.

But, let's be honest, with a sea of buzzwords and complex terminologies circulating, it can be tricky to not only 'talk the talk' but also 'walk the walk'.

Even well-intentioned companies with substantial resources can unintentionally greenwash, inadvertently misleading their consumers.

This guide serves as a valuable resource for entrepreneurs, marketing professionals and sustainability champions.

It seeks to simplify the often complicated language of sustainability and reduce the risk of greenwashing for startups and small businesses.

Without a clear understanding of these terms, the risk of unintentional greenwashing - misleading consumers about the environmental benefits of a product or service - increases substantially.

Ready? Let's dive in.



A 'sustainable' product or service meets current needs without compromising the environment or future generations' needs.

At Inspiration Space, we agree with the team at Finch: most products don't meet the rigorous definition of sustainability - in particular if it uses virgin resources. But, sustainability exists on a spectrum, and any claim of such should be underpinned by tangible proof.

Therefore, if you market an offering as 'sustainable', ensure you can evidence use of renewable resources, social value and minimised environmental impact.




A 'green' product or service aims to minimise environmental impacts throughout its lifecycle, including beyond its usage period.

Companies marketing what they do as green should have evidence of waste reduction, resource efficiency, use of non-toxic ingredients and sustainable processes.



An 'eco-friendly' product or service should go beyond not causing harm to the environment. It should actively contribute to the wellbeing of the planet's various ecosystems.

From biodiversity to water conservation, every interaction matters. Companies claiming their products or services as 'eco-friendly' should conduct an extensive lifecycle analysis to prove that every stage - production, use, and disposal - positively contributes to the environment.



Zero waste aims for a comprehensive conservation of all resources through responsible production, consumption, recycling, and recovery, with no discharges to land, water, or air that harm the environment or human health.

The Zero Waste International Alliance (ZWIA) sets the global benchmark for 'zero waste' certification at 90% diversion from landfills.

Businesses claiming 'zero waste' should demonstrate that they divert at least 90% of their waste from landfills, with systems in place to recycle, compost, or repurpose waste.




While 'natural' might imply something safe and beneficial, not all naturally occurring substances are harmless or environmentally friendly.

Some toxins and bacteria, although naturally occurring, can be harmful to human health and ecosystems.

Therefore, companies using 'natural' to describe their products should provide scientific evidence to show that the ingredients are naturally occurring and do not pose a threat to humans or the environment.




Biodegradable items decompose into organic matter, usually within three to six months.

If you claim that a product is 'biodegradable,' you should provide test results proving that the product will degrade into organic matter within a set timeframe.




Compostable items degrade into a soil-like substance under specific composting conditions. Companies claiming their products are 'compostable' should provide evidence that their product can degrade into nutrient-rich soil under specified conditions.




Recyclable items can be repurposed into new products. However, a viable and extensive recycling infrastructure should be available where the product is sold and widely available to buyers.




A product labeled 'refillable' should provide an easy way for customers to replenish its contents.

This typically involves customers reusing the original container and buying refills, which are generally packaged using fewer resources, thus significantly decreasing waste.

The Cosmetic Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA) asserts that any claims about a product's environmental advantage due to reuse must be supported by solid proof, such as a full Life Cycle Assessment or Product Environmental Footprint (PEF), which shows a lower environmental impact over the reuse life cycle.

Furthermore, it should be evaluated how often the packaging can be reused safely before recycling or discarding, and a method to identify this point should be established.


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This term suggests a product or service has been produced with environmental or social considerations in mind. Using this term should show that you have incorporated environmental or social considerations into your business model.



Low Carbon

This indicates products, services, or practices that emit fewer greenhouse gases, reducing their impact on climate change.

Claiming a product or service as 'low carbon' should provide evidence that fewer greenhouse gases were emitted during production, use, and disposal.




This term is primarily used in agriculture to describe practices that enhance soil health and capture carbon.

It is increasingly used in a broader context to denote any practice that revitalises its energy and material sources.

Only claim your practices are 'regenerative' if you can provide evidence that your methods restore, renew, or revitalise their sources of energy and materials.


Net Zero

Achieving 'net zero' means balancing greenhouse gas emissions with the amount removed from the atmosphere.

Companies claiming 'net zero' should show that they measure, manage, and mitigate their emissions BEFORE offsetting.


Keep learning and questioning to lead the way

So there you go. We've unpacked the most common greenwashing terms and highlighted the responsibility each one carries.

Remember, sustainability is a moving target. It's not about perfection, but it is about transparency. Concrete evidence and substantiated claims are critical if you want to avoid greenwashing risks.


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