“Sustainable vs Green”

Let’s talk about the differences between “Sustainable and Green”.  Both are buzzwords used these days.  Both have been used on many occasions interchangeably, yet mean different things.  If it is  “Green” is it “Sustainable”?

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 well being of the natural world and the responsible use of natural resources.

Sustainability includes three elements, environmental responsibility, social responsibility and financial responsibility.  Sustainability takes into account the realities of our economy and our society.  In other words, it means that organizations or individuals should operate in a financially sound framework, but also be socially and financially responsible in their activities and operations.

But what does “green” actually mean?  It means environmentally friendly and places less burden on our declining resources.  It should reduce the carbon footprint by releasing fewer toxins or consume less energy.  Green is better and is a wiser choice for a better tomorrow.

The “Green” movement is consistently abusing the issues related to true sustainability.  The word ‘Green’ is being routinely used to such an extent that it is almost a justification. If we are to let this Green movement carry on like this, the issues related to true sustainability will be lost behind.
A “Green” product is like 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.

If you really want to live more eco-friendly and know the difference between green and sustainable then you will need to do your homework, not just on the product or its components, but on how the company makes it.  Make sure you understand exactly the difference between environmental marketing claims which are created to get you to buy the product.  Make those companies provide you with certifications to back their environmental sustainable or green claims.

I admit it is challenging to find a product that meets your needs and is both green and sustainable.   This means you will have to make a decision and choose something that’s not sustainably produced, but can have a very green application or at least be eco-friendly.

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 consumers 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 example if a product can be manufactured in an environmentally friendly manner, without costing more to produce and without negatively impacting the community (low wages for employees, for instance) it can be said that the item is truly sustainable.

I hope this article helped a bit in providing you with some insight to the differences between “Sustainable and Green”.

Now the next question to ask yourself, “What are you doing to  to support the environment.  I am hoping you are utilizing waterborne products when at all possible.   Using green products for clean up, removing mildew, using recycled shop rags, ask for low VOC paint, recycling thinner-etc.   Make sure you are up to date on all products that are sustainable and at least eco-friendly, if they are not green.   If we all do our part the world will be a better place to live in.

Darylene Dennon, Solid Energy, Inc.  Printed in the Summer 2011 Edition of  DECO Magazine