Green =/= Sustainable

In the comments on last night’s post – which is still generating discussion – I mentioned that I see a difference between “green” and “sustainable”.

Sustainable living is driven by common sense. Green living is driven by ideology.

Sustainable living will often cost less – economics are a factor. Green living will cost more it can require paying a premium to maintain ideological consistency.

This caused some confusion. Let me make some distinctions between the two:


  • Decisions that are green consider only the environmental impact.
  • Green priorities exclude all else. The triumph other considerations on the basis of a higher moral order.
  • Green ideology pursue a net gain for the environment – things becoming greener. More trees and undevelopment (eg removing human traces from nature).
  • Green practices mean using as little as possible in terms of “natural resources”.
  • “Plant more trees” is a green mantra.


  • Sustainability is a philosophy of ensuring something can continue in the same manner in a reproducible or reusable fashion. Stuss’s example of using cloth nappies is a great example.
  • Sustainability does not pursue a net gain for the environment – but no net loss. Building a lodging in a National Park is ok – provided there is not significant damage to the surroundings.
  • Sustainable practices seek to replace what is used where possible.
  • “Leaving only your footprints behind” is a sustainable mantra.


Amy says:

I still don’t agree that you can only use green in the sense that you have here – that of environmental extremism. I think green is, in fact, many shades of grey.

Planting more trees is not necessarily a problem. But it is not a catch-all solution. But numerous studies have found tree plantings on farm land boundaries result in better water retention and better harvests etc. You can’t brand all tree-plantings as extreme.

I will point out that sustainability as you have it will not address the current divide between rich and poor in this world. It would seem that for sustainability of lifestyle across the board the Western world will have to accept some cuts in their expectations.

Nathan says:

I think you’ll find this is why the Greens are called the Greens and not the sustainables.

I’m just going by the loony party who have best grabbed the green label. Once they’ve got it, it’s hard to argue that the word means anything else.

I used the mantra of each as a comparison between ideologies – not because I believe planting trees is bad. I’m all for that. Trees create oxygen. Firewood. Building materials. Community amenity. Political icons. Cricket bats. I am in favour of trees. They’re important. There should be more of them.

But I wouldn’t define myself with trees or the environment in the description. The “Greens” do.

Leah says:

“Green” *can* be applied to “Sustainability”, but the media (which is responsible for our exposure to such ideas) and “green” organisations have put the “green” label onto the ideology Nathan described under his “Green” heading… therefore I think what he describes as “green” is valid :P

Of course, not everything that calls itself “Green” is quite that extreme (like solar heated showers or detergents made from natural resources), but in doing that they’re taking a term that has been hijacked by people like (for example) the Greens Party.

Nathan says:

I was thinking about another green v sustainable thing today.

Greens are anti culling. They want kangaroos running wild and crocodiles eating people.

Amy says:

My point is that myself and many people I know would describe themselves as greenies and think it is a very logical thing to cull excessive populations of kangaroos to stop them all starving to death, and so on. I just don’t see that label as a one size fits all thing.

BUT I as I said in my other post, I tend to get my information etc from different sources to most – ie not the media.

Nathan says:

But the vast majority of “greenies” would be against culling of anything.

That’s a nasty generalisation made purely on the basis of the candidates the Green Party stands for election and the statements they make.

Amy says:

There’s your problem you see – I just don’t believe in generalisations.
Except about stupid people :P

Amy says:

That is not all the symbol I was trying to type in. Oh well.
Note that that last part was mostly sarcastic.