The Definition of Green Living
(And Greenwashing)

The Definition of Green Living, Greenwashing, and Sustainablility, via
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Q: What is the definition of green living?

Green living is a lifestyle which seeks to bring into balance the conservation and preservation of the Earth's natural resources, habitats, and biodiversity with human culture and communities.

Proponents of sustainable living understand that we are neither separate from nor unaffected by our natural surroundings and that the direction of the human race is directly affected by the direction of the Earth's environment in which we live.

Such proponents understand the need to embrace practices which have little or no negative impact on our environment, to reduce waste and consumption, to work with Nature in creating sustainable food systems and living arrangements and to strengthen local communities and relationships.

In laymen's terms, living green and sustainably means creating a lifestyle that works with Nature and does no long-term damage.

Of course, this definition gets confused when you considered things like special interests, differing scientific opinions and things like "greenwashing".

The purpose of life is a life of purpose.
~ Robert Byrne

Q: What is "greenwashing"?

The real definition of green living is often muddled with trendy, consumerist messages of "green" products. This is known as greenwashing: making an unnecessary, wasteful, unsustainable or unethically produced product or service seem "green" or environmentally-friendly through advertising ploys, misinformation or blatant dishonesty.

As green living gains popularity, greenwashing moves in to gain a profit. This isn't totally a bad thing. A step in the right direction is better than no step at all. But it's important to differentiate between what is truly sustainable and what is simply "better than nothing".

Q: Can you give an example of greenwashing?

Here are just a few examples:

  • Paper towels made completely or partially of recycled materials: Paper towels, no matter what they are made of, are almost always unnecessary and wasteful.
  • Compostable disposable dishes: Composting something doesn't negate the effect of continual mass production and shipment of single-use products.
  • Water bottle companies producing bottles with less plastic: No amount of plastic bottle waste is okay, especially when much better options exist.
  • A new Fall line of clothing made from organic cotton: Most highly fashionable clothing is out of fashion quickly and rarely worn long enough to be considered sustainable.
  • Biofuel made from ethanol: Ethanol is a corn-based product. Not only does it use land area that could be used for natural habitat or food production, it requires the use of over 1 gallon of oil to produce 1 gallon of ethanol.
Although these examples of greenwashing may be considered a step in the right direction, they are not only contributing to a broad misunderstanding of the definition of green living but also continue to contribute to a highly wasteful lifestyle that cannot be sustained in the long-term.

A life without cause is a life without effect.
~ Barbarella

Q: Does this mean there is difference between the definition of green living and sustainability?

I think so. I see sustainability as the fully committed, hard-core stuff and green living as the path to get there.

Another thing I tend to ask when it comes to green living is "What are we sustaining?" Are we trying to sustain unhealthy foods or agriculture systems, or social systems that disconnect us from each other or the things that matter to us? "Green" products can't bring us any more satisfaction than other products. Our choices need to not only be sustainable, but also sustain us on a personal or spiritual level.

Q: So, does this website encourage green living or sustainable living?


I don't call this website Sustainable Baby Steps for nothing. Since most people aren't ready or able to jump into true sustainability right out of the gate, I'm an advocate of making the best choices you are willing to make while taking small baby steps toward real hard-core sustainability.

Don't worry; this doesn't mean I'm going to be advocating recycled paper towels or thinned walled plastic water bottles (those don't fall within my definition of green living at all). Nor will I be insisting everyone live off-grid in a yurt. (Although a gal can dream!)

But it does mean you'll find plenty of simple ideas to move you towards a more environmentally-friendly lifestyle, one sustainable baby step at a time.

Read Next: Green Vs. Sustainable: What are we sustaining here?

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