Is It Green, or Is It Sustainable?

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ June 12, 2012

These days, you'll find the words "green" and "sustainable" tossed around like chocolate chips in articles and blogs about home improvement, construction and energy efficiency. The words are not interchangeable but they can be used in describing the same products or designs. In examining materials or methodology, look over your details with a fine eye. Remember how easy it is for food companies to claim their products are "organic"? Terms like "sustainable" and "green" can often be throw away lines.

Go Green Street argues that "sustainable" products are created in balance with ecology: they allow for ongoing regeneration of the resource and are harvested without compromising the ecology where they're naturally found. "Green", on the other hand, does not mean the product is sustainable; it most closely means that the product or material can decay into the environment, as in recycled paper towels. If it's disposable, Go Green Street says, it's not truly green.

The ZTC International landscape blog writes that how a product is created, transported and powered has a lot to do whether it's sustainable. In this case, "green" refers to the impact of the product or system. But it's not necessarily sustainable if it took gas-guzzling planes and ships to transport "green" bamboo flooring to your home.

Green, ZTC clarifies, is a description of immediate effect, but not necessarily of long-term, positive ecological impact.

Can it be green and sustainable?

Writing in the For Residential Pros blog, writer John Wagner argues that downloading music to an iPod (to cut down toxic CD packaging) is hardly sustainable if it's manufactured in a "filthy plant in China powered by coal generating plants in here in the United States." To carry both labels legitimately, Wagner says, a product must perform as a green product, have low or no toxic materials (VOCs), and be manufactured in a sustainable system.

Last spring, Mother Earth News writer Tim Snyder cited a United Nations definition that, "Sustainable entities are those that meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs."

From a practical standpoint, it's easier for consumers to go green rather than opt for sustainability. There are more green products on the market. "Going green" would be to retrofit your lighting fixtures with CFLs. Going sustainable would be to install cork flooring in your den. You might find yourself going green with alternative building materials. "Going sustainable" might mean hitching your home to net zero energy sources like solar and wind.

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