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What Do "Green" and "Sustainability" Mean?

For several years, colleagues have debated the meanings of Green and Sustainability with little consensus. Those words seemed like shadows – plainly in view, able to be envisioned and identified, but almost impossible to hold. Every attempt at a working definition would be rebuked by a rightful exception, flaw, or consequence for which had not been accounted for. So, what do “Green” and “Sustainability” truly mean?
But maybe that is the point. The terms Green and Sustainability are tremendously subjective and even personal. Today, the worlds of Green and Sustainability are many-headed, and touch on an enormous breadth of actions and initiatives, products, services and industries. They carry different definitions for each person, and therefore motivate individuals in different manners. By that measure, we can begin to understand these ethereal terms, and at least set baseline definitions.
If we were to poll various types of people – from the ultra-liberal to the ultra-conservative, we would certainly find a wide spectrum of definitions of Green and Sustainability. Some may consider anything less than a wholesale return to pre-industrial living to not be Green. While others may believe that carving out sets of land as nature preserves is more than enough. Presumably, the majority would find their own definitions somewhere in the middle. Green and Sustainability are typically portrayed by the media, industry and various public interest groups through a variety of emotionally charged viewpoints. These reports often present various attempts to ameliorate a number of ‘risks’ posed to human, animal, plant and global health. The recent confusion of the two terms may be due in part to organizations marketing their green projects; or maybe it is a lack of understanding of the green movement and sustainable actions by mainstream media. Regardless of the cause, we should make an effort to understand the difference between Green and Sustainability.  

Defining the Un-definable

Green and Sustainability are connected, but not the same. As mentioned, these words, or contexts, are becoming ‘umbrella terms’ used to describe the current (yet reoccurring) cultural movement toward the preservation of natural and/or environmental resources, societal health and wellness, and economy. Perhaps a safer stance would be to view Green as a philosophy – a general line of thought dedicated to preserving and promoting our ecological habitat (earth) while understanding the interconnection between society, environment and economy.

For our purposes, Green must also include the benefits our bodies receive by reducing our intake of toxins, artificial chemical compounds, and general atmospheric blight.
Sustainability refers to the objectives and initiatives we set forth coupled with the actions we take to both perform and ‘sustain’ any given ‘green’ task. In a sense, it is about preserving a certain condition or way of life through one’s actions and/or the ability to control one's surroundings. Within a Green philosophy context, this refers to the individual or group procedures undertaken to reach a Green ideal. This may be as broad as only planting native plants, installing a water filter rather than purchasing bottled water, or building a ‘green’ building. It is a more definite and concrete construct than Green, though equally important.
Sustainability will continue to grow in usage and importance. A widely-used description of Sustainability is to, ‘engage in processes that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. The need for sustainable resources and processes is so great and so far-reaching that it was recognized long ago that grass roots efforts weren't enough. In the last two decades, initiatives have percolated up to the realm of organizations that can influence society and industry on a global scale.

Definitions in Action

Green and Sustainability have the attention of the largest multinational corporations and news outlets, so we can expect to see more articles on green companies and more news clips on sustainable activities from mainstream media. And this should be applauded. Universal principles of Sustainability incorporate areas of human rights, the environment, and anti-corruption with the action thereof to facilitate these principles.

In many cases, corporate marketing and media reports have confused the concepts of Green and Sustainability. The notions of Green and Sustainability are not just simply about 'saving the Earth.' Rather, they are multi-dimensional concepts encompassing the family, community, the environment, and the global economy . These concepts are influencing a foundation for world ‘consciousness’ while continuing to be forces defining personal values; thus driving the actions to ‘sustain’ these values to ensure this foundation. Simply stated, if possible, is that Green is the ‘philosophies or principles’ while Sustainability is the ‘actions to preserve this philosophy’. In the coming months, we will explore many more Green philosophies and Sustainable actions – some simple, some complex – but all with the same goal: To educate you, our readers, on ways to define and sustain your Green ideal.
We invite and encourage you to explore What “Green” and “Sustainability” Mean to You! 

This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.

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