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Efficient, Eco-Friendly, Green, Sustainable – What’s The Difference?

In every industry, there exists terminology – a group of names, words or expressions that have been developed to help people explain or classify different practices and products to help them communicate more efficiently.

But sometimes, those terms aren’t used in the right context or become synonymous with each other even though their definitions aren’t the same. Our industry is no different, so we’re shedding light on some common terminology that we hear misused all the time so that you can avoid being misled and can communicate your needs more clearly when dealing with builders.

Energy Efficient

Energy efficient means the product or home uses less energy to operate or fulfill the same task on the same level as a standard product or home. While houses, windows, heating systems, light bulbs, and appliances may look the same, they are not. To be truly energy efficient, the product or home must meet a certain set of criteria and carry an associated certification.

Look for an ENERGY STAR® logo on appliances or talk to an Energy Advisor or Registered Energy Efficient Builder to learn more about your home's energy efficient options.

It’s important to note that while a product or home may energy efficient, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be eco-friendly, green, or sustainable. Read on to find out why.


Eco-friendly is a term that is often overused and misleading. Eco-friendly means that the product (or service) is in no way harmful to the environment. When we think about the environmental impact that a product or service has, things like raw materials (such as wood), water usage, energy consumption, and waste production (like packaging or emissions created during manufacturing or shipping) all play a part in whether it can be accurately be classified as eco-friendly.

Unless it’s made with renewable materials, it’s not mass-produced in a factory, and it (or its packaging) doesn’t contain materials that impact the environment (i.e., contain chemicals that can leak into our water supplies or plastics that take a long time to break down) or the negative impacts made on the environment in production/packaging are offset in some way, a product cannot be truly eco-friendly.

Even then, when you factor in the transportation needs to get these products to market (as most items need to be shipped from the company to reach the end consumer), environmental implications still affect a factual eco-friendly rating.

So, if a product is truly eco-friendly, does that mean that it is also energy efficient? Again, not necessarily. Unless an eco-friendly product uses less energy to operate or fulfill the same task on the same level as a standard product, it can’t be considered energy efficient.

Could it be considered “green” or sustainable? Possibly. Read on to find out why.


Green is a term that is often used interchangeably with “eco-friendly,” “energy efficient,” and “sustainable” but their definitions are different.

Practices, energy sources, or products that are truly “green” are those that are implemented or created in ways that avoid harm to the environment. For instance, green energy refers to an infinite energy source; it does not produce carbon emissions or negatively harm the environment when it’s being consumed. Similarly, a green product would be produced with renewable, chemical-free materials and would use manufacturing processes that don’t hurt the environment.

So, if a product is green, it must be sustainable, too, right? Hmm, not quite. But more on that in a bit.

Green is also not the same as energy efficient. While they both aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, something that is energy efficient may still have environmental implications, therefore cannot be considered green.

And not all “green” products are equal. Some businesses use a marketing gimmick called “greenwashing” to embellish their environmental efforts and enhance the perception that their products or services are “green” and therefore safe for the environment, when in fact, they are not.

Practicing due diligence not only makes you more informed as a consumer, but it also ensures your efforts to protect the environment aren’t in vain. Here are some ways you can dig a little deeper to determine if products or services are truly as “green” as they claim to be:

  • Read products labels closely and make sure you understand the terms being used

  • Find out what manufacturing and shipping processes the company uses

  • Look into the ingredients or materials used – and their sources – and how their use impacts the environment

  • Buy local whenever you can. Not only does this reduce emissions caused by transportation but it allows you to talk to the source directly to find out just how green their practices are.


While eco-friendly and green initiatives are both focused on preserving the environment, sustainability must consider multiple factors, of which the environment is only one component.

Sustainability refers to our ability to meet current needs without compromising on the future generation’s ability to meet their needs. And while environmental preservation is a top consideration, social and economic implications also play a part in whether something can be considered sustainable or not. Things like the cost of living, employment rates, ethics and law, health, human rights, and quality of life must all be considered to deem any product or practice sustainable.

With so similarities between them, it’s easy to see how these terms get mixed up all the time. We hope this post has cleared things up and you’ve picked up some helpful information that will assist you in making more informed decisions during your next home-building adventure.

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