After last weeks topic, Bamboo Fiber is Sustainable But Not Green, I wanted to shed some more light on the differences between “green” and “sustainable”
The words “sustainable” and “green” are buzzwords these days, and they’re sometimes used interchangeably (although they mean different things). Ethical consumerism is the intentional purchase of products and services that the customer considers to be made ethically, which anyone looking for green or sustainable products or services is practicing! This may mean with minimal harm to or exploitation of humans, animals and/or the natural environment.  In this guide, you’ll learn more about green and sustainable products, and you’ll also know how to tell the difference between the two.
Sustainable products reduce the impact on the environment by using responsibly-sourced products- those that are either completely renewable or sustainably harvested. A sustainably harvested source material is gathered in a way that doesn’t mar the surrounding area, pollute the air, or permanently reduce the supply. In ecology the word sustainable describes how biological systems remain diverse and productive over time. For humans it is the potential for long-term maintenance of wellbeing, which in turn depends on the wellbeing of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.
That’s the definition of “sustainable”, so let’s break it down in terms that are more easily understandable. Let’s say you have an iPod- you probably don’t think much about how it was made or what it’s made from. Actually, it’s a fairly environmentally friendly product to use- no trips to the music store to buy CDs, no pollution from your car to get there.
It’s a “green” product, but is it sustainable? Not really, if it’s made in a plant somewhere overseas and it takes a lot of fuel to get it here to the US. Also, the electricity that charges that iPod has to come from somewhere- usually from a coal- or nuclear-fired power plant. For it to be truly sustainable, the manufacturing, shipping, and powering would all have to be done in a way that doesn’t deplete resources or harm the environment.
Sometimes, it can be hard to find a product that meets your needs and is both green and sustainable, so you have to make a choice. You’ll either have to pick something that’s not sustainably produced, but has a very green application. For example: a durable finish on your floor that has a high VOC content. It’s green in the way it’s used because you don’t have to refinish or strip it as often, but it’s definitely not made in a sustainable way because the volatile organic compounds can contribute to pollution.
An example: 100% recycled paper towels. While creating the paper towels from recycled materials would be considered an eco-friendly option, paper towels are in no way green. They are just another product designed for convenience to be thrown in the trash. The ambiguous marketing is intentional to make consumer to believe they are purchasing a product with greater eco-friendly benefits, when in fact, nothing disposable is truly “green”. A green option would be, recycled fiber reusable towels.
Here’s another example: the wood your house is built with. Obviously wood is an eco-friendly product, but is it sustainable? Yes, if the company that cut the trees and made the boards doesn’t permanently deplete the forest. Wood is durable, but if it’s harvested in an environmentally irresponsible way, it’s not sustainable at all. Using reclaimed wood or FSC Controlled wood, is both “green” and “sustainable”.
For those that want to live more eco-friendly, choosing between green and sustainable can be a delicate balancing act. Deciding what to use can take research- not just on the product or its components, but on the company that makes it. This choice is being made every day by growing numbers of people- who are choosing products that are equal parts green and sustainable. Keep in mind that many companies dump environmental marketing claims to prey on consumers, so make the company provides certification to back any environmental sustainability or green claims! These green claims are often refereed too as greenwashing.
- 1. Ethical consumerism, Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethical_consumerism
- 2. Sustainability, Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustainability