Green vs. Sustainable: Know the Differences

a cotton tote bag with vegetables spilling out of it

The difference between green and sustainable.  

The focus on protecting our planet is an increasingly discussed topic. Earth Day was celebrated on April 22nd, and, in light of that, many of us are looking to better our impacts on the planet and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle. Or is it a “greener” lifestyle? What’s the difference? Although the words “green” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably, there are several differences between them, meaning that “green” is not always “sustainable.”

Green is generally defined as concerned with or supporting environmentalism. However, this definition is somewhat vague, and that is why something can get classified as green even if it isn’t.

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 does not affect the surrounding area, pollute the air or permanently reduce the supply.

To understand the difference between “green” and “sustainable,” consider a popular “green” product like bamboo flooring. A lumber product made from a renewable resource is green. But most bamboo flooring is made in China and transported to end users in the U.S. on ships and trucks that burn diesel fuel. That’s not sustainable because our supply of fossil fuel is finite and because burning this fuel contributes to global climate change.  A car can be considered “green” simply because it manages to deliver 40 miles per gallon of gasoline. But it’s not sustainable for us to be extracting fossil fuels from the earth and burning them at current rates.

Although sustainability has set requirements that going green doesn’t, that doesn’t mean that making changes in your lifestyle isn’t worthwhile. We can be green while we all work towards being sustainable. Some may choose to switch to LED lightbulbs and install water-efficient showerheads. Others may work towards a neutral carbon footprint. Protecting our planet is a joint effort – and one worth doing.

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