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The Definition of Green Living
(And Greenwashing)

The Definition of Green Living, Greenwashing, and Sustainablility, via SustainableBabySteps.com

Q: What exactly is the definition of green living?

Okay, here's the dealio. Green living is a lifestyle that tries in as many ways as it can 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. I mean, that should be a given, right?

We understand the need to embrace practices which have little (or no) negative impact on our environment both now and in the future, 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, instead of against it, and does no long-term or irreversible damage to any part of the environmental web.

Of course, this whole definition of green living gets confused when you considered things like special interests, differing scientific opinions, and things like "greenwashing". Keep reading...

Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it. - Henry David Thoreau

Q: What is "greenwashing"?

The real definition of green living is often muddled with trendy, consumerist messages of "green" (or "greened") products that are anything but. 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 bullshit.

As green living gains popularity, greenwashing moves in to gain a profit. This isn't always 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". And it's important to educate people so they don't think they are doing good when they actually aren't (what I like to call "armchair activism").

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. Totally logical, right?
  • Or how about the fabric protection that was recently offered to me. Their literature said it was "eco-friendly" but they couldn't substantiate that claim at all. No green seals, no ingredient list, and when I did further digging into their MSDS I found it was a complete lie! THAT, my friends, is greenwashing with balls.

Although some of 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. And that's kinda the purpose of sustainablility: something that can be sustained.

Everyone who considers themselves a realist will be forced to justify their behavior in light of their contribution toward the preservation of the environment. - Ernst von Weizacker (find more quotes here...)

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 to help me know whether I"m making the best choice possible is "What are we sustaining?" Are we trying to sustain unhealthy foods or agricultural 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 (even if they do assuage our guilt a bit). 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, and since not everyone will want to, I'm an advocate of making the best choices you are ready to make while taking small baby steps toward real hard-core sustainability. You can start with reducing your energy consumption or eating healthier for less, and move onto the bigger moves as you're ready.

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 girl 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.

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

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