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Defining Eco-Business Terms We’ve All Heard (But May Not Fully Understand)

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When we talk about environmentally-friendly business, all sorts of different terms get tossed around. Knowing what each one means can be downright confusing. Is your “fair trade” coffee “organic,” too? Is this flooring company using “sustainably produced” or “upcycled” materials? Does a corporation have a “social responsibility” plan in place? And what exactly does “green” mean?


The following definitions come straight from reputable sources and will help us better understand some commonly used eco-business terms.



B Corp: B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency. (Source:


Carbon-neutral: One way for companies to negate unavoidable carbon emissions is to pay for greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions to be made via tree plantings, wind farms and hydroelectricity. This is known as carbon offsetting. If enough offsets are purchased to balance out all the emissions remaining after reduction efforts have been made, then the net emissions will be zero. (Source:


Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR): A corporation's initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company's effects on environmental and social wellbeing. The term generally applies to efforts that go beyond what may be required by regulators or environmental protection groups. CSR may also be referred to as "corporate citizenship" and can involve incurring short-term costs that do not provide an immediate financial benefit to the company but instead promote positive social and environmental change. (Source: Investopedia)


Eco-friendly: Earth-friendly or not harmful to the environment. This term most commonly refers to products that contribute to “green living” or practices that help conserve resources like water and energy. Eco-friendly products don’t add to air, water and land pollution. You can engage in eco-friendly habits or practices by being more conscious of how you use resources. (Source:


Ecopreneur: An entrepreneur whose business efforts are not only driven by profit but also by a concern for the environment. Ecopreneurship, also known as environmental entrepreneurship and eco-capitalism, is becoming more widespread as a new market-based approach to identifying opportunities for improving environmental quality and capitalizing upon them in the private sector for profit. (Source: Gwyn Schulyer)


Fair Trade: Fair Trade is a model of sustainable, ethical trade that puts people and planet first. It’s the easiest way to do the most good, every day. Based on the simple idea that the products we buy and sell are connected to the livelihoods of others, Fair Trade is a way to make a conscious choice for a better world. (Source: Fair Trade Certified)


Green: Relating to the protection of the environment (Source: Cambridge Dictionary)


Green entrepreneurship: The endeavor of consciously addressing an environmental/social problem/need through the realization of entrepreneurial ideas with a high level of risk, which has a net positive effect on the natural environment and at the same time is financially sustainable. (Source: GREENT Project)


Greenwashing: The use of marketing to portray an organization's products, activities or policies as environmentally friendly when they are not. Example: putting an Earth sticker on a product that isn’t eco-friendly to make it appear like it is. (Source: Investopedia)


Organic: USDA-Certified Organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible. (Source: USDA)


Post-Consumer Recycled Waste: Once a material or finished product has served its intended use and has been diverted or recovered from waste destined for disposal, it is then considered "post-consumer." Having completed its life as a consumer item, it can be recycled as such. This differs from "pre-consumer" or "post-industrial" waste, which is generated by industrial or manufacturing waste. (Source: TreeHugger)


Sustainable Production: The creation of goods and services using processes and systems that are non-polluting and conserve energy and natural resources. Production methods are economically viable, socially and creatively rewarding for all working people, as well as safe and healthful for workers, communities and consumers. When production is sustainable, the environment, employees, communities and organizations all benefit. (Source: Lowell Center for Sustainable Production)


Triple Bottom Line: A concept seeking to broaden the focus on businesses’ financial bottom line by including social and environmental responsibilities. A triple bottom line measures a company's degree of social responsibility, its economic value and its environmental impact. (Source: Investopedia)


Upcycle: To make new furniture, products or objects out of old or used things or waste material. (Source: Cambridge Dictionary)


Before you go

QB Community members, are you running a green business? If you are, we’d love to know which terminology you use to describe your products and services -- and why!

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