It’s Not Easy Being Green: Learn the Difference Between Eco-Friendly and Sustainable

In the past, people have used words like “eco-friendly” and “sustainable” as blanket terms, but what do they really mean and how can they be used to benefit your business? Well, it’s time to untangle the mysteries of green products. Here is our guide to the difference between being eco-friendly and sustainable, plus tips on how you can be green with your business. 

What Does it Mean to Be Eco-Friendly?

As more companies used the trendy “eco-friendly” label to market their products, the government has come out with regulations about how the term can be used. To meet legal requirements, products labeled eco-friendly need to specify exactly why they’re eco-friendly. This can include: 

  • Renewable materials: Yes, there is some crossover between eco-friendly and renewable. If you are using renewable resources and materials for your product, you can say eco-friendly.
  • Bio-degradable: Natural fibers and bio-degradable plastics can be called eco-friendly because they will break down in landfills instead of, well, lasting forever as clutter.
  • Recyclable: This is not the same as bio-degradable, because recyclable products need to be broken down in a factory to be reused. However, when properly recycled, these materials can reduce waste and are considered very eco-friendly.
  • Recyclable Materials: Glass, aluminum, steel, and other materials can be easily recycled to make more products, as opposed to sending them to landfills. Note, not all glass is recyclable, so make sure it’s labeled as recyclable for eco-friendly shopping.

For a more complete list of what meets the eco-friendly meaning and how specific you need to be to make these various claims, check out the guidelines posted on the Consumer Trade Commission’s Consumer Advice article

Why Are Recycled Products Considered More Eco-Friendly?

Recycled products are considered very eco-friendly because instead of creating more waste, recycled products take away from waste and send those materials back into the usable market. Some common recycled material terms found on our site include: 

  • Post-Consumer Recycled Materials: This means that the material is made from products already used by consumers, like recycled water bottles.
  • Pre-Consumer Recycled Materials: Common for textiles, paper, and wood, this means that leftover material from production (usually the excess cut off of products) is recycled to make more products.
  • RPET (Recycled Polyurethane): Polyurethane is a very strong material often used for water bottles, food jars, and other culinary products. Its recycled version, however, is more flexible and often used for blankets and textiles. Check out this other blog post all about RPET and why it’s good for the planet.

Watch Out for Carbon Offsets

Obviously, in a world dominated by fossil fuels, not every part of a production process is going to be eco-friendly. To be able to maintain use of fossil fuels where necessary and still comply with federal regulations, companies can opt for what are called carbon offsets, which means they donate money to things like planting trees or preserving wild land to offset their carbon emissions.  

The problem is, many of the companies offering carbon offsets are not legitimate, allowing many companies to buy their way to a false claim of carbon neutrality. They claim things like your money will save trees from being chopped down, but often they’re protecting trees that were never in any danger anyway, or have you donate funds to supposed building projects that were going to happen either way or are never completed. You can learn more about this from Green Peace’s article on the dangers of carbon offsets

So, if carbon offsets are a flawed system, what can we do in the meantime? As a business, you can: 

  • Use only third-party verified carbon offsets: Not every carbon offset program is a scam. This article by Yale Climate Connections can help you understand more about finding legitimate carbon offset programs to meet emission regulations.
  • Donate toward carbon solutions: Don’t rely only on offsetting your carbon footprint. To make real change, send your money to people who are pushing greener solutions and allow you to go Net Zero for real in the future.
  • Be Transparent: Don’t mislead your customers. If being carbon neutral isn’t possible for you right now, explain why and tell your customers what you’re doing to improve going forward.

What Makes Something Sustainable?

What does sustainable mean? Sustainability is all about how many resources are used to make a material and how easily those resources are replenished. Here are a few popular renewable resources that are often used in product manufacturing. 

  • Jute: Jute crops produce a lot of oxygen, increase soil fertility for following crops, and produce more yield in a year than cotton.
  • Hemp: Hemp crops require little water, shade out weeds, reduce the need for herbicides, increase soil fertility, and produce a high yield.
  • Bamboo: Bamboo is considered sustainable because it grows fast and easily, needing no pesticides or fertilizers and little water.

Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Products

Pens.com has all sorts of eco-friendly and sustainable products to help you promote your business. Here is just a small selection of our more popular options to get you started: 

Recycled Totes

From RPET to recycled paper, we have all sorts of recycled tote types available for you to put your branding on. One of our most popular is this Chaya RPET Tote with Pouch, made of RPET material and foldable for easy carrying and storage. We also offer jute, hemp, and natural cotton totes in varying styles and sizes. Customers also love our Two-Toned Recycled Cotton Convention Tote for its natural colors and material. Reusable totes like these help cut down on waste by reducing the use of single-use plastic bags, which you can read all about in this other blog post

FSC Certified Paper Products

This Recycled Leather Bound JournalBook® is just one of our popular products featuring FSC certified paper. FSC works to make the world a better place by protecting forests with sustainable logging practices, bio-diversity protection, and more. Learn all about FSC and the benefits of their certification in this other blog post

Reusable Straws

We all know the dangers that single-use plastic straws pose to the planet, so we have a wide variety of alternatives available on our site for you to customize. Whether it’s a portable stainless steel straw like this Telescopic Stainless Steel Straw in Carabiner Case, or biodegradable paper straws for you to use in your restaurant, you’re sure to find something that fits your brand and your business needs. 

Custom Pens

Many of our branded pens feature renewable resources or recycled materials. One of our popular pens, the Aloha Bamboo Pen, features a natural bamboo barrel that gives a luxurious feel for spas, hotels, and other industries while using a renewable resource to cut down on plastic. 

Disposable Cups

Just because something is disposable does not mean it can’t be eco-friendly. For example. This 16 oz. Grande What Straw Coffee Cup is made from a bio-degradable material instead of traditional plastic. Wheat straw is one of many bio-degradable materials that are often used to replace plastic for disposable products and is used by many eco-minded businessses. 

It’s not easy being green, but it’s worth the effort to keep our planet healthy. As you work to make your own business greener and learn the difference between being eco-friendly and sustainable, you can learn all about how Pens.com is doing the same on our social responsibility page. You can also find all sorts of green products available on our site so your branding helps make the world better.


Green Peace: https://www.greenpeace.org/international/story/50689/carbon-offsets-net-zero-greenwashing-scam/ 

Yale Climate Connection https://yaleclimateconnections.org/2019/05/are-carbon-offsets-a-scam/ 

Consumer FTC: https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/eco-friendly-green-marketing-claims  

Katie Yelisetti

From marketing tips to product recommendations, I’m here to help small businesses be their best.

Published by
Katie Yelisetti

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