"Environmentally-friendly" sounds completely normal to me. So does "Environment-friendly". But I'm pretty sure I favour the former (despite the fact that I normally prefer the shorter of any two equivalent terms).

According to Google, I'm in good company. At least, the 'allies' massively outnumber those who say "Environment-friendly".

Why is this? Environment seems like a straightforward noun. All the other -friendly constructions I can think of just bolt on to the uninflected noun...

User-friendly software, Gay-friendly bar, Dolphin-friendly tuna, etc.

I hesitate to ask "What's so special about the environment?", but there it is being asked.

Later... Note that my focus is on why the inflected form apparently 'just happens' to be used with environment, but not with other nouns.

  • It wouldn't be the only irregularity in English . . . to be: I am, you are, he is, we are, you are, they are, I was, you were, he was, we were, you were, they were . . .
    – compman
    Apr 28, 2011 at 0:56
  • 2
    Whether it's a general rule or not, the hyphen is not commonly used with the sequence of words environmentally friendly, whereas it is typically used with the sequence environment friendly.
    – mgkrebbs
    Apr 28, 2011 at 7:08
  • I'd say mild, warm, clean mediterrean countries are environmentally friendly for the tourists...
    – SF.
    Jun 15, 2012 at 10:18
  • There aren't all that many compound adjectives of the [ADV + ADJ] form, and far fewer still where the adjective is not participial. brightly-lit / well-mannered / hard-working / deeply-rooted / densely-populated / well- ... / .... Mar 6, 2016 at 17:05

11 Answers 11


I don’t think there’s anything grammatically wrong with environment friendly. It sounds a little funny only because we hear environmentally friendly so much more often, and I think the reason for that is historical.

The environmentally phrases all seem to have taken off at around the same time, during the 1970s, according to Google n-grams. The most common of the phrases at that time was environmentally sound.

Note that environment sound is not an option. It’s clearly ungrammatical, I guess because sound doesn’t take any kind of complement: policies that are sound to the environment is wrong.

The less common phrases apparently followed the lead of environmentally sound, and that’s where we are today.

  • Well, I can only give one upvote to your answer, but I have to say it looks pretty convincing to me. The environment became more of an issue to forward-thinkers thru the 70's and 80's, but marketing departments only really started pushing their products' "green" credentials in the last couple of decades. By the time they got on the bandwagon, responsible, sensitive, concious, etc., had already staked out the lexical territory. Most of those earlier conjunctives required -ally anyway, so the ad-men were just going with the tide of linguistic history... Apr 27, 2011 at 23:23
  • @FumbleFingers “Well, I can only give one upvote to your answer” Actually, since you asked the question, you can also click the green check mark to select this answer. (Afterwards, if you change your mind, you can select a different answer.) If you don’t select an answer, then on Saturday, the bounty will go to the top-voted answer. Apr 28, 2011 at 16:45
  • Sorry I wasn't around to award you the bounty. Let the record state that I do not endorse Matthias's attempts to draw semantic distinctions between the two expressions. I'm convinced the truth is more to be found in the answers by yourself and mfe. May 1, 2011 at 2:15

My guess is that it's not that you're being friendly to the environment. It's that you're being friendly in an environmental way. It's actually odd for me to see the dash in "environmentally-friendly", because the first word in the pair is simply the adverb explaining in what way you are being friendly.

This is probably also informed by the fact that your "environment" can be any number of things from your immediate surroundings up, but "environmental" as an adjective pretty much always refers to something that takes care of "The Environment". We call conservationists "environmentalists", not "environmentists". When you're "environmentally aware", you're aware of how your actions affect The Environment and are aware of ways to minimize your damages. When you're "environment-aware", you simply are aware of your surroundings- that is a term I see passed around my school's computer science labs concerning their robots.

  • +1; I don't think the hyphen helps "environmentally-friendly". See also my older question about passive-aggressive.
    – MrHen
    Apr 28, 2011 at 18:15
  • Agreed; hyphens aren't needed to attach an adverb to the adjective that follows it--it's assumed that the adverb is modifying the adjective. It's needed in "environment-friendly", however, to explicitly tie the noun to the following adjective, as an abbreviation of "friendly towards its environment."
    – matthias
    Apr 29, 2011 at 9:11

Perhaps it is because environmentally lends itself to other familiar applications; -friendly seems to be one of many. I can think of a few others: environmentally safe, environmentally conscious, environmentally sound, all of which I would consider to be "set phrases", so to speak.

It is worth noting that gay may also be used as an adverb as-is, but you've got me at user- and dolphin-.

  • I only put the gay one in to humour a gay friend who remembers the old days when gays would be well advised to check such attitudes before ordering a pint and settling down. Today's youngsters would probably think it's a bit like talking about drinker-friendly bar. "Wow! - is it really? We really must go and check it out!". Apr 8, 2011 at 15:05
  • I’m not aware of adverb variants for user and dolphin, but it’s not a simple matter of the adverb form being preferred. (Of course, you didn't say it was.) Consider government-friendly and governmentally-friendly, where the Google popularity test favors the first construction.
    – Lucas
    Apr 8, 2011 at 17:04
  • Also, note that environment safe and environmentally safe follow the same pattern.
    – Lucas
    Apr 8, 2011 at 17:05
  • “gay may also be used as an adverb as-is” Could you give an example? Apr 27, 2011 at 19:35
  • @Jason: The adverb is "gaily", and it is associated with the original meaning (cheerful, happy-go-lucky) of the adjective "gay".
    – Ben Voigt
    Apr 30, 2011 at 19:27

I am Australian and Environment-friendly sounds wrong to me, I can't recall ever hearing it in common speech. However a google search revealed several reputable sources using it, including an Australian Government information page.

Wikipedia redirects "Environment Friendly" to "Environmentally Friendly" and points out "eco-friendly" as a synonym.


In my view, there is no easy adverb replacement for gay-friendly, user-friendly or dolphin-friendly, whereas environmentally friendly is easily derived from the adjective environmental.

I offer no evidence to the following, but there may also be a cadence-preference to separate stress in syllables. Consider enVIRonMENTally friendly vs. enVIRonMENT-friendly.

  • I agree that there is a nicer rhythm/meter to the first but I think there is only one stressed syllable in environment.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Apr 26, 2011 at 14:55
  • @z7sg: I was thinking primary and secondary stress. I didn't know how to denote it cleanly – perhaps as en2viron1mentally and en1viron2ment. Apr 26, 2011 at 17:29

The source for this construction in American speech is typically marketing-driven. Advertisers look very hard for words that have no legal implications but a lot of popular appeal. Hyphenated constructions, under certain fairness-in-advertising rules, are allowed as words which bring no specific social obligation to them.

For example, we went through a time of "-fresh" words, particularly in the late 90's. Fish was ocean-fresh, salads were garden-fresh, eggs were farm-fresh...you get the idea.

The "-friendly" construction is the same game. You can say you are ocean-friendly, garden-friendly, farm-friendly. The terms might resonate who takes such expressions at face value.

  • What you say may very well be true, but I didn't ask about -friendly. I'm interested to know why in this particular case we mostly precede it by environmentally, rather than just environment, following the pattern of similar constructions as given in OP. Apr 26, 2011 at 16:06
  • 1
    When you start seeing "environment-friendly" on any number of American products, you'll see my point. Sorry you didn't find this helpful.
    – mfe
    Apr 26, 2011 at 16:45
  • I did find your answer helpful (and interesting), even though it didn't directly address my question, as I said before. It reminded me that the primary users of this expression are in fact ad-men. So unless anyone convinces me otherwise, I'm up for Jason Orendorff's answer. The ad-men took environmentally sound from existing usage by Green campaigners, and combined it with up-and-coming user-friendly from computer geeks entering mainstream society. Thus was born their buzzword for the new millenium. Apr 27, 2011 at 23:39

I'm going to say for me "Environmentally friendly" implies a chemical or product that can be mixed or leech into water or nature in general.

Lead paint is not environment friendly.

Something that is not principally a solution or spray but may be an annoyance or danger might be labelled "Environment friendly".

Putting a nail in bathroom is not environment friendly because it could be stepped on.

Both Environment-friendly and Environmentally-friendly are not only correct, but in fact required, so they're both bound to show up on google.

It's like this:

Where the packaging is for a product that involves a further assemblage / process / is in the DIY category- like an aerosol spray can of paint, for example- the usage environmentally-friendly is good. This here means Using this product or kit according to the recommended procedure will not seriously damage the planet.

The paint in the can itself might be environment-friendly, if it has so much lead, so much tin, so much phosphorous, and so on. This here means This product will not damage the environment. (Well, 'not any more than we're legally permitted to' at least.)

The former is for a process of some sort, and the latter, for a product where no further assembly or DIY or priming is involved; you simply open and consume (use up) the contents.

"Made using environmentally-friendly manufacturing practices" is one way to standardize, but it's sometimes inconvenient to print lengthy mandatories on a small packaging area.Also, this sometimes says nothing of the product itself, in which case it might turn out that the actual import is "this product contains an alarming abundance of ozone-depleting substances, but it happens to be manufactured using an approved process in a state-of-the-art setup that conforms to the European standard."

In some cases it's also sometimes tough to take a call on which is more correct. Is an "electric car" environmentally-friendly, or is it environment-friendly? There's as much semantics in R&D as in marketing & advertising.Company A might claim the former, while Company B might object. And while the government, the companies and the scientists go about interminably to reach a consensus, marketing and Q3 targets cannot wait. So, a convenient eco-friendly is used instead. This doesn't make it explicit if it means ecologically-friendly, or ecology-friendly, so the guys in legal like it. It's also shorter, so adland likes it.Run with it.

Between the two usages, environmentally-friendly carries the greater risk of morphing into This improves the environment, while environment-friendly just may or may not be factual, where provable.

Then again, with a product like packaged organic compost for your garden, you could use either, or perhaps even both, and it'd still ring/be true.

The contextual relevance of when either usage becomes significant with respect to a product also differs with different product categories - for a can of paint, it might be when the spraying is being done, for a battery it might be when after it runs out of juice and is discarded. For a synthetic food product, it might be when you're actually eating it as well as after you've eaten it. and so on.

Speaking for myself, I'd any day prefer a battery that claims to be environment-friendly, not environmentally-friendly.


Hyphens are omitted when the phrasal adjective begins with an adverb ending in -ly:

  • professionally typed letter
  • environmentally friendly products

Here, the -ly adverbs necessarily modify the adjectives that follow them, so a connecting hyphen is redundant.


All I can think of (which might be far from what you want to know, but I hope not) are the sentences we learned in school:

He is a careful driver


He drives carefully

So, can we bring that further and say:

We take care of the environment


We are environmentally friendly

Can't explain it, but it sounds like maybe that could be part of the reason? :)

  • I don't recall being taught anything about those two sentences, and to be honest I don't distinguish them apart slightly favouring the first form. Were you taught some subtle difference between the alternatives, that sheds light on my question? Apr 24, 2011 at 14:43
  • I am not sure if it sheds any light, because I can't show you the rules on it. But the difference is that "He is a careful driver" tells us something about the driver, while "he drives carefully" tells us something about the driving. But still, I have trouble relating it completely to your example. Hopefully someone else can. And if not I apologise. :-)
    – masarah
    Apr 24, 2011 at 14:47

Let's try something related to the Normalized Google Distance :)

"Enviroment Friendly" - 6,400,000 results

"Environmentally Friendly" - 23,000,000 results

"Environment-Friendly" - 6,430,000 results

"Environmentally-Friendly" - 23,100,000 results

and the winner is ...

  • 2
    I don't know why you posted this. I already pointed out in my question that "the 'allies' massively outnumber" the uninflected form. I'm not asking for confirmation of that fact, I'm asking why it is so - particularly given that other -friendly coinages just use the uninflected noun. Apr 24, 2011 at 3:54
  • @FumbleFingers I'm being downvoted because I'm supplying the numbers? hmmm Apr 24, 2011 at 17:50
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    @pageman: I certainly didn't downvote because you supplied the numbers. In general I wish people would do this more often, though I do think Google hits should be taken with an even bigger pince of salt than their NGrams. No, I downvoted because, as I'd have thought my last sentence in OP makes clear, I was looking for a reason, not more details about the known facts. Having said that, please believe that I appreciate any response at all, even if I feel compelled to downvote in the interests of the site as a whole. Apr 24, 2011 at 20:09
  • @FumbleFingers good point! :) I did preface it with "Normalized Google Distance" - I could have cited "Kolmogorov Complexity" as a reason and then linked to: eprints.pascal-network.org/archive/00002784/01/tkde06.pdf but this is not SO! ;) Apr 26, 2011 at 19:16
  • 1
    @pageman: That's all very interesting, but it's really about the 'connectedness' of any pair/group of words. In this case we're dealing with pre-defined relationships, in that all four permutations do actually occur as 'stock phrases'. Apr 27, 2011 at 0:14

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