Reader Contribution by Tim Snyder


Over the last few years, the word “green” has gained a definition that goes way beyond color. Today, “green” has established itself in our vocabulary as an adjective, noun and verb, not to mention a movement.

Just like the term “green,” “sustainability” encompasses a broad range of activities and issues. It’s sustainable (and green) to support local farms, and to buy goods and services from locally owned businesses. Regardless of where you shop, it’s sustainable (and green) to bring your own reusable shopping bags instead of consuming disposable plastic bags that persist in the environment and are made from petroleum products.

Green isn’t always sustainable

Although “green” and “sustainable” are often used interchangeably, there are important differences between what is “green” and what is “sustainable.” To get a better understanding of where these differences lie, we might start with a definition of sustainability that came out of a 1987 conference at the United Nations:

Sustainable entities are those that meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.

Here’s another definition of sustainability from the Environmental Protection Agency:

Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of presentand future generations.

“Future” factors set a higher standard for sustainable products and activities

To understand the difference between “green” and “sustainable,” consider a popular “green” product like bamboo flooring. Without doubt, a lumber product made from a renewable resource is green. But most bamboo flooring is made in China and transported to end users in the U.S. on ships and trucks that burn diesel fuel. That’s not sustainable because our supply of fossil fuel is finite and because burning this fuel contributes to global climate change.

In general, sustainable products and activities are subject to a higher standard of performance because of “future” factors. A car can be considered “green” simply because it manages to deliver 40 miles per gallon of gasoline. But it’s not sustainable for us to be extracting fossil fuels from the earth and burning them at current rates.

The way forward: learning, debate, innovation and compromise

Life isn’t easy when you place a high value on sustainability. Like it or not, our society has evolved to consume resources at an alarming rate with little regard for the long-term consequences. For me, living more sustainably is a journey rather than a destination. There are a number of things I can do on my own to live in a more sustainable manner -like reducing my use of plastic and improving my home’s energy efficiency, for example. And there are other things I need to do as a community member -like helping to promote farmer’s markets, community gardens and mixed-use development. Above all, I need to keep learning, talking to others, and taking action where and when I can. That’s why I’ll be attending the 4th Annual Northeast Sustainable Communities Workshop that takes place on June 7 at John Jay College in New York, NY. If you’re interested in learning more about this workshop, visit the website at