The word “eco-friendly” catches the green shopper’s eye, but it eludes most everyone else. While it has long been the buzzword for the environmental movement, it fails as a label.
"Eco-” lands on the ear as scientific jargon, unrelated to anything in the average Joe’s experience, while "friendly” sounds like nothing to bat an eyelash at, let alone to shake up
one’s coffee order about. As a whole, “eco-friendly” sounds like an optional lifestyle or hobby for sign-holding, chanting stereotype.
To replace it, I suggest the word “bio-safe," which is both more accurate and more accessible in meaning. “Bio-”, meaning life, points shoppers, media, families and business thinkers toward those companies that include safety for living things in their decisions.
Living things who would be accounted for, in the definition of bio-safe, include human beings and their children. Whether or not a product is safe for acres of wildlife habitat or for use on a human body counts in its bio-safety. The safety of many common grocery items is already documented in scientific data kept by organizations like Forest Stewardship Council (us.fsc.org), World Wildlife Fund (worldwildlife.org), Nature Conservancy (nature.org), and Ocean Conservancy (oceanconservancy.org) . Multiple non-profit entities collect, research and maintain such reports, often sharing them in pamphlets or blogs.
Evidently, degrees of measurable harm and good to all types of biology have long been behind the eco-friendly movement, which is what “friendly” fails to convey. For example, conventional laundry soaps and household cleaning items release toxins into the environment, not to mention into homes, and would not be called bio-safe. Coffee harvested via child labor is detrimental to children’s health, and therefore not bio-safe. Certain products like palm oil--in makeup, peanut butter, and more--require decimation of rain forests where endangered primates take refuge, and are not in any way bio-safe.
On the other hand, biodegradable detergents, organic plant products, Fair Trade items, and recycled paper products could possibly sport a bio-safe or “bio-safer” label.
Safe gets orange cones and a “Cuidado” sign when the floor is wet. Only certain levels of safe are allowed into homes and bodies. Many look away from friendly, but the shopping world stops for safe. Unlike "eco-friendly", both of the root words in bio-safe are established in common knowledge and imprinted on public consciousness. This in turn would make it harder for major corporations and would-be greenwashers to fudge.
A bio-safety movement could beget a new degree of transparency from many companies, just like with the growing rush to have an eco-friendly image. Big brands could find themselves in a world that demands greater accountability, as “safety” begins to activate a more basic gut-response in the market than “eco-friendly”. Slowly but surely, the public could become suddenly interested, on a wider scale, in the simple safety of all who are touched by the things they take home.
(In the meantime, “sustainable” would continue to be useful to green shoppers, but is not as obvious to the unaware in what it means.)
Perhaps a day will come when bio-safe items are labeled for what they are. Together, it is possible to show manufacturers, along with the children of the future, that our dollars care about more than being friendly.