Green vs Sustainable:
(Or What Are We Sustaining Here?)
I find a common misconception is in the ideas of green vs sustainable. The two terms are often used interchangeably when they actually mean two different things.
Green doesn't always mean something is sustainable. And sustainable may not always be the best choice.
This is one thing I didn't expand on in the definition of green living, so let me explain what I mean here.
Green, Greener, Greenest
"Green" is best thought of as a spectrum. Yes, there are "green" products, and then there is greenwashing (which we talked about in the link above) which may be "greener" than conventional products, but not exactly the best choice. And then there is the "greenest", or what is actually sustainable. (And even sustainability could be put on a spectrum.)
For instance, conventionally grown agriculture is really neither green, nor sustainable. Organic foods that come from across the nation or across the world are "greener" (or even greenwashed, really), as is getting food grown regionally, but growing that food yourself is an example of what would be among the most sustainable options.
But then, sometimes that sustainable choice is not sustainable at all.
You see, it comes down to the actual meaning of the word "sustainable": something we can sustain.
So when does a sustainable choice (like growing your own food) become unsustainable? When the person trying to make the sustainable choice cannot sustain it. Sounds obvious right? But it's something we honestly miss a lot. For instance, (in the gardening scenario) if this person hates to garden, or isn't good at it, or can't physically keep up with it, they will not want to (and/or will be unable to) sustain those actions. Making that choice actually unsustainable for them. See what I mean?
Now I'll be the first to admit that in the eco-community way too many people look at scenarios like this with judgment or feel that person should make sacrifices or whatever. But is self-sacrifice and unhappiness and constantly struggling to make something work any more sustainable?
Assuming everyone can or should make the same choices to live sustainably is just a "green" form of judgment, condescension, and ignorance about the fact that we are unique, diverse, and interesting individuals who should be honored for our individuality and what we excel at, not for how we conform to yet another standard - even if we do deem this the "right" standard.
When it comes to what is truly green vs sustainable, it's important to ask these two questions:
- Am I actually able to sustain this?
- And what am I actually sustaining here?
In regards to that second question, if we're making green choices that are making us unhappy, we're not creating a sustainable future, because as a culture we will end up unfulfilled, burnt out, and ultimately unhealthy. Is that what we want to sustain? (Um, no. I think we can all speak from experience on saying that one doesn't work!)
Creating a sustainable future means creating a life that's actually worth sustaining. This means an emphasis on the things that deeply fulfill us, such as our relationships, our passions and interests, our sense of peace or fun, and most especially our ability to enjoy ourselves and one another.
If we aren't doing something we love, are passionate about, or find some form of fulfillment in, we will not be able to sustain it. Period. It's our human nature to gravitate toward things we love and away from things that are harmful to us (whether that's physically harmful, or emotionally and spiritually harmful). We just can't really make other things last...and if we do we end up sustaining a really miserable world, and that is NOT what I'm shooting for here!
So, what's the truly sustainable solution?
I see it as connection - both to Who We Are (bustin' out the capital letters!) and to others in our life and community.
Don't want to grow your own food? Get connected with the gardening neighbor to trade services, shop the farmers market, support a local farmer who finds great joy in the process, or learn how to afford organics in a million other ways.
Love to decorate but worried about the footprint? Buy art from artists, rather than stores, paint your walls with No-VOC paints, shop antique stores, upcycle old things into new, and DO create a home you actually WANT to live in.
Love fashion? Get involved in eco-fashion, shop consignment, upcycle old into new, or learn how to make your own from organic materials.
Being green vs sustainable should not mean going without, sacrificing your well-being in any area of your life, or making yourself miserable trying to be someone you're not. That's! not! sustainable!
Our emotional, mental, and spiritual lives need to be sustained too....and we CAN create lives WORTH sustaining without harming the environment if we keep things both close to home and close to the heart.
What about you? Share your ideas of green vs sustainable in the comments!
Ready for More? Why Go Green? (I've got 9 reasons for ya!)