Green vs. Sustainable

This is another post with more typing than pictures. More baby photos and images of spring again soon, but not right now.

I was asked by a Facebook friend why my last post mentioned sustainability, but not the green movement. To be honest, it’s pretty simply because I feel they’re two different (though admittedly related) things, but I’m just not all that interested in the green movement.

Don’t get me wrong, I think people being more conscious of their impact on the environment is a good thing. That said, I think the green trend in its current state has a tendency to be counter-productive. Exorbitantly priced supermarket organic fare, chemical cleaners in plastic spray bottles marketed as being “green” with a price tag inflation riding along with that earth shaped sticker, and alternative fuel source cars that can cost enough to buy a small house… what part of that is expected to be appealing to your average family? The movement, I’m sure, springs from nobler roots, but the current trend seems to be in the direction of using the idea of “going green” as a marketing technique to sell us things we don’t need or to jack up the price on things we do.

The approach I prefer is a little different. I like the term “sustainable living”, but like so many other environmental buzz words, what, exactly, that entails may vary depending on who you talk to. To me it is a matter of saving “recycle” and “reuse” for when you absolutely can’t simply “reduce”.  I find it amazing how many things we just do not need, but buy anyways, almost out of habit. We have been convinced that we do need them, and over time it seems to become comforting that we have all of these things that we “need”. I don’t believe that the whole world should live only with the most basic food, water and shelter necessities of life. The unnecessary “needs” I refer to are things like the wall clock by my desk that I “needed” to tell the time, when in fact the batteries haven’t been changed in, literally, years because I always check the time with my computer clock or cell phone.

The idea of a sustainable approach that I favor is something I truly believe anyone can get behind and benefit from. The basic concept is simple: live better on less. There are simple ways to do this that are surprisingly easy on the wallet. For starters, don’t buy on impulse. Sure, the store display makes it look like something everyone should have, but will it really get used more than a time or two? If you look around your home, how many of these buys are there lurking in the backs of cabinets or bottoms of drawers? Maybe you didn’t even unpack them after the last time you moved. Without those things, how much money might you have saved, and how much less clutter might your home have?

Then there is the issue of the recurring purchases. Almost everything your average, American, middle class family is expected to buy every month can be simplified. Most of the occurrences we buy disposable items for can be addressed with non-disposable things with ease, especially if a household has a washer, dryer and dishwasher. Paper towels and other wipes can be replaced with dishcloths, tissues with handkerchiefs, plastic bags and throwaway tupperware with glass jars and other reusable containers, etc. If the environment is a concern that has to come well after making ends meet for your family, consider the savings you would incur if you didn’t have to buy all of those things over and over again each week.

You know all those super expensive “natural” cleaning products? Here’s the not so dirty secret to how they work: the vast majority of household cleaning can be done with baking soda or vinegar and a fraction of the cost. Worried about germs? Vinegar is anti-bacterial and is far more human friendly than bleach, not to mention it breaks down pet smells that your average drug store cleaner can actually chemically burn into a surface. As the mother of a budding toddler I’m also a big fan of this approach for the simple reason that fewer toxic chemicals in my cabinet are less potential trips to the ER.

Then there is food. Fast food is cheap, quick and generally accepted to be tasty. You don’t have to know how to cook or spend time doing so. It also runs up a tab in unexpected ways. We all know that fast food is related to obesity, and you’ve probably heard about the effects on heart health, and maybe even recent research suggesting a link to breast cancer. Medical costs take time to show up though, and American culture is very oriented on right now. So let’s look at right now. Right now, the price of a single organic eggplant at the supermarket could easily cost you the same as a small bag full of hamburgers. That’s just sad, but even with that being true, less processed food tends to fill you up faster and keep you full longer resulting in less food being needed.

It’s time to get out of the chain grocery store and get closer to the source, where you’re not paying to have things shipped from Chile, driven across the country, and displayed in spaces with astronomically high commercial real estate rent. Try your local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program. You can find a CSA in your area on Most offer organic, or mostly organic produce at prices well below what you’d pay at the grocery store. Some even offer other products and services, including meat, dairy items, bread, eggs, honey, soap and other beauty products, and home delivery.  I’m a huge proponent of growing your own food, but if that’s not practical for your life, then I would consider this to be the next best option. It’s less wasted fuel in the transportation, less wasted electricity in the storage, and less wasted money on your part in not having to pay for those things.


One response to this post.

  1. This is a great post. So often people don’t take the time to distinguish between green and sustainable and as you point out, there is a difference! I love that you mentioned CSA in your writing. I’ve been involved in CSA for a number of years and am always working to get others to do the same. Thanks for sharing.


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