The Ultimate Eco-Friendly Guide 2020


The Ultimate Eco-Friendly Guide 2020
Photo taken in Kazbegi, Georgia.

Hearing the term eco-friendly a lot lately? Noticing how crazy the weather is getting?

Want to become more eco-friendly in 2020?

Eco-friendly means not environmentally harmful.

Companies throw the term around so much, it’s hard to know what they mean.

If product labels are to be believed, even disposable diapers are good for the planet.

And yet, the environment seems to be getting worse, while laws protecting it are getting weaker.

I consider myself somewhat of a pollution connoseiur. Not by choice of course. It’s just that most countries I travel to have their own unique problems.

I’ve nearly passed out from air pollution in Tbilisi, Georgia; hallucinated on tap water in Chiang Mai, Thailand; and stumbled on trash in Bali.

I can tell you, none of it is fun.

Whether you think climate change is man-made or a natural cycle, we can all benefit from cleaner air and water. This article covers everything from the basics to pro tips on helping the Earth.

Let’s find out how we can make the environment better for everyone.

Table of Contents

  1. A Brief History of Eco-Friendly
  2. What Is Eco-Friendly?
  3. Are Ecolabels Effective?
  4. What Do We Consider Eco-Friendly?
  5. Why Should You Be Eco-Friendly?
  6. How Do You Become Eco-Friendly in 2020?
  7. Eco-Friendly Business Ideas
  8. Curious About More Tips?

A Brief History of Eco-Friendly

Twelve Apostles Marine National Park
Twelve Apostles Marine National Park in Australia

People have cared about the environment for longer than you’d think. In fact, the oldest recorded ideas about protecting it come from Jainism 2,500 years ago in India.

Modern environmentalism that led to the term eco-friendly, however, is only two hundred years old.

It originates from the Romantic Period in Europe when people started becoming interested in nature again.

This had a lot to do with increasing pollution in cities, which really puts things in perspective.

Environmentalism took off in the late 19th century during the Industrial Revolution.

Back then there were no regulations. It was like a contest to see which factory could pollute the most.

London was so bad that the air was nicknamed “pea soup”, and not because it was soothing and delicious. 

Concern for the environment then made its way to North America thanks to John Muir. He cofounded the Sierra Club, the largest environmental organization today.

And after an epic camping trip with Teddy Roosevelt, he convinced Congress to preserve Yosemite National Park, instead of letting it become a lumber mill.

This sparked a wave of reforms, the creation of the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Things peaked in the 70s and 80s with the founding of Greenpeace, the first Earth Day and the UN’s first environmental conference.

The term Eco-Friendly was coined during this period.

Concern for the environment dipped in the early 2000s after the dot com bubble. Turns out that going under really left people disillusioned.

It’s picking up speed again, this time because of climate change and worsening air quality.

Even though eco-friendly has become mainstream, there’s plenty of room for improvement.

What Is Eco-Friendly?

The simplest definition of eco-friendly is “not being harmful to the environment”.

It originally referred to goods, services, laws and policies that minimize harm to ecosystems and the environment.

Now it’s vaguely used by companies to promote products, sometimes with certifications, like ecolabels.

Eco-friendly is thrown around a lot, since there is no universal standard. In the U.S., it’s pretty easy to receive an ecolabel if you meet just one of their criteria.

The EPA actually warns against this and encourages consumers to be cautious.

Overuse of ecolabels is also known as “Greenwashing”.

Eco-Friendly Synonyms

Here are other words that are similar to and sometimes used interchangeably with eco-friendly:

  • Eco
  • Green
  • Environment-friendly
  • Nature-friendly
  • Eco-conscious
  • Sustainable
  • Carbon-neutral
  • Biodegradable
  • Recyclable
  • Energy-efficient
  • Reusable
  • Compostable

Are Ecolabels Effective?

There are over 463 ecolabels in the world. Their standards vary and most lack transparency.

Certifications also don’t cover the entire supply chain and lifecycle of each product.

So a product can be made with biodegradable material like cotton, but still require a lot of water to grow while severely polluting bodies of water during production (Hemp is actually a much better alternative.)

It’s hard to know which ecolabels are effective. They’re kind of like participation trophies. Anyone can get one, and they don’t mean a whole lot.

What Do We Consider Eco-Friendly?

Every product causes some damage to the environment by simply existing.

We can minimize this by being conscious consumers.

Since there is no comprehensive definition of what an eco-friendly product is, we came up with our own.

There are four areas where a product can cause harm to the environment.

If a product meets one criterion from each category, it can be considered eco-friendly.

When it’s made:

  • Handmade
  • Made of natural raw ingredients, or minimizes synthetic ones
  • Doesn’t contain environmentally damaging materials
  • Upcycled from recyclable materials
  • Made from recycled or biodegradable materials
  • Doesn’t result in external pollutants
  • Comes in minimal packaging

When it’s transported:

  • Made locally to avoid pollution from shipping
  • Transported by freight train

When it’s used:

  • Does not require an external power source
  • Energy and water efficient
  • Does not emitting pollutants

When it’s disposed of:

  • Must be recyclable or reusable, products that aren’t single-use
  • Durable or can be repaired
  • Does not create hazardous waste at the end of its lifecycle

Can a product be considered eco-friendly when it is transported across the Pacific Ocean? Especially when the country of origin doesn’t follow EPA standards during production to keep costs low. Probably not.

That’s why we included transportation as one of the criteria.

The bottom line is, if it’s cheap and imported, it isn’t eco-friendly.

Why Should You Be Eco-Friendly?

Why Should You Be Eco Friendly
Left: Fine dust covering Seoul, Korea / Right: City view from Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Do you like breathing fresh air? Do you want to live a longer and healthier life? Do you enjoy not worrying about getting sick when you drink water?

Then you might be one of the billions of people who can benefit from a clean environment.

The pictures above may be from a different continent, but the problem affects people everywhere, including North America.

Air pollution in Los Angeles
Aerial view of smog on an average day in Los Angeles. Just because you can’t see it from the ground, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Source: Pixabay

Even if the sky is blue where you live, pollution has a way of entering your body through food and water.

And pollution doesn’t discriminate. It kills rich and poor alike.

Industries pollute more than single households, but they do this because of us.

Whether we like it or not, companies are a reflection of us and our desires.

They extract resources, manufacture products and transport them across oceans, because we buy them.

Everything starts with us. If we want to have better living conditions, we need to start by changing how we act.

It doesn’t take much. And we’re here to help.

Surprisingly, there are many ways to do this while saving time, money and energy.

Read on to learn ways to help the environment.

How Do You Become Eco-Friendly in 2020?

Step 1. Think before you buy

Before buying anything ask yourself if you really need it? Do you have something similar that still works?

Will this product help you in the long-run? Or will it collect dust in the corner?

Then, quantify the price in hours of your time. For example, if you earn 30 dollars an hour and the product is 60 dollars, consider that two hours of your life. If you still think something is worth two hours of your life, then by all means buy it.

Then spend a minute to find an eco-friendly alternative.

There isn’t always a sustainable option available. It’s hard to tell the people of Flint, Michigan to go green, since their water is already that color.

So, don’t beat yourself up if you have no choice. You could always create your own eco-friendly version and sell it.

Step 2. Be flexible

You don’t need to go live off grid in the woods. Doing things a little differently with the same amount of energy can make a big difference.

You take out the trash anyway. Why not throw your food in a compost pile on the way?

When you check your wallet, keys and phone on the way out, put them in a canvas bag for groceries with a food container for leftovers.

Switching things up is always fun. Even more so when you’re doing something positive. Making small changes can be addictive and adds spice to your life.

Step 3. Get a hobby

Being eco-friendly doesn’t have to be tedious. Find something fun you can do that is part of an eco-friendly lifestyle.

  • Grow your own vegetables.
  • Plant trees.
  • Make your own clothes.
  • Ride a bike to work.
  • Learn how to repair household appliances.
  • Go hiking on the weekends (your bank account will thank you).
  • Make your own furniture.

It’s a lot easier to stick with something when you’re having fun.

Step 4. Be lazy

They say always hire the laziest person to do a job, because they’ll find an easy way to do it.

I’m not always in the mood to put on clothes and pick up trash on the freeway. My idea of a perfect Sunday involves my couch and pajamas. Luckily, there are many ways to be eco-friendly by doing less.

  • Get your groceries delivered. It actually burns less gas because the truck delivers multiple orders.
  • Use your microwave. It’s more efficient than your oven.
  • Rewear clothes that you haven’t sweated in.
  • Wait til the laundry piles up to do a full load.
  • Don’t buy a new phone every year. You can simply swap out the battery for 30 dollars and reformat it. It’ll be good as new.
  • Wash your rags instead of buying paper towels. It’s quicker and cheaper. And it’ll save you time since you can clean and dry in one step.

If that is too much, just opt for paper towels that have been recycled

Step 5. Spread the word

Judgement-free sharing of your positive change can inspire others to do the same.

Don’t shame others because of their choices.

Lead by example and stress the benefits of your new found behavior.

Instead of, “wow are you really going to do X? Don’t you care about the planet?”

Try “I started doing Y and it’s been great. I’ve actually saved money and energy this way.”

Eco-Friendly Business Ideas

Baan Kang Wat Artist Village
Baan Kang Wat Artist Village in Thailand

There has never been a better time to start an eco-friendly business.

“Green business is a growth industry.”

Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, based in Germany, estimates that the global market volume for “environmental technologies” will reach $2.7 billion by 2020.

We are now experiencing the 4th Wave of Environmentalism, which is being driven by the individual.

The ease of starting a business, rise in environmental awareness and technological innovation are creating a megatrend of eco-friendly companies.

With this new level playing field, it’s possible to create an eco-friendly business based on your expertise.

Eco-Friendly Products

If there is no eco-friendly version of a product you use, why not invent one yourself? Large corporations may have tons of resources, but they are too big to be fast and agile. Your advantages are specialization, flexibility and low overhead. The sky’s the limit to what you can create.

Startup costs: low to high

Service-Based Eco-Friendly Business

Tired of working for someone else? Why not turn your day job into a business you’re passionate about? The industry is wide open with options such as environmentally-friendly housing management and even green pet care. The best part about this is that the startup costs can be very low. The hard part might be scaling.

Startup costs: low

Eco-Friendly Consulting

Businesses are more eager than ever to reduce negative effects on the environment. As a consultant, there are many benefits you can offer on top of a cleaner planet, including positive publicity, tax write-offs and decreased costs. Energy audits can also save companies thousands of dollars, while lowering consumption.

Startup costs: low

Environmental Publications

People are more concerned than ever about the environment. By offering actionable info or advertising for eco-friendly businesses, you can earn money while helping the environment. All you need is a little passion and a website.

Startup costs: low

Eco-Tourism and Hospitality

Travelers and event organizers are always looking for new experiences. Why not provide an eco-friendly version of a tour or event? Providing human-powered tours and eco-friendly experiences are a great way to find a new niche. All you need is yourself and some expertise.

Startup costs: low to medium

Eco-Friendly Repair Services

Like working with your hands? You can put them to use while helping the environment. Fixing bikes and computers can extend product lifetimes and result in less waste. It’s a great way to turn your hobby into a business.

Startup costs: low

Eco-Friendly Retail Business

If you enjoy shopping at second hand stores, you might want to open one up yourself. Gently used goods including books and clothes are always popular. You can often receive your merchandise as donations and then sell them. The only overhead you’d have would be the store itself. It’s even possible to create an online version of this.

Startup costs: medium

Eco-Friendly Crafting Business

Creating goods by hand out of sustainable or recycled materials is a great side-hustle. You can get the materials for free and turn them into works of art. It’s also easy to market your items using social media platforms like Pinterest and Instagram.

Startup costs: low

Curious About More Tips?

If you read this far, congratulations! That means you are going to be more eco-friendly this year.

Here are 40 easy ways to reduce waste at home, work, and while traveling.

Find out more ways to shop better!


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