What Is the Difference Between Green and Sustainable?

By Bilal Aftab Usman on June 1 2017 in Environment

Wind energy is both green and sustainable.
Wind energy is both green and sustainable.

Although the two words are often used interchangeably, "green" and "sustainable" do not mean the same thing. Green refers to the activities that provide a more efficient use of resources and minimize the harmful impact on the environment when compared to similar products. Sustainable refers to activities that allow a specific problem to be solved without having adverse implications in the future.

Origin of the Confusion

The recent furore on industrial activities has led many companies to re-evaluate their beliefs on their environmental impacts. While most building models were usually sustainable, they often didn’t fill the criteria to be considered “green”. In the last decade and a half, the “green” movement has ensured companies employ more environmentally friendly methods which do not necessarily hamper nature for future generations. The absence of a clear distinction to differentiate the words ultimately led to the words erroneously being used interchangeably.

Scope of Use

Green is used in a more all-encompassing sense compared to the words sustainable and sustainability. Sustainability is all green. However, it is also important to note that being green doesn’t necessarily make something sustainable. A common example of this is when a compromise is reached between a green product using non-sustainable resources to function. For example, a green car can run on electricity but it is still transported across the globe in fossil fuel powered cargo ships. The carbon footprint left by these cars is minimal but still existent. Similarly, a sustainable nuclear power plant may not be green because nuclear waste is virtually impossible to process and dump. Despite being a clean source of energy, the environmental impact is still present which renders the power non-green even though it is sustainable. Although it is still sustainable, the environmental impact is still present which classifies the power plant as non-green.

Green or Sustainable

The choice of words is deemed irrelevant in modern marketing. Marketers often project their products as the most environmentally friendly product out there. Despite using non-sustainable techniques and ingredients, a product can still qualify as a green product. Sustainable products require a higher standard altogether. Being green is assumed when we try to make a process or product sustainable.

Impact on Future Generations

Going green and going sustainable go hand in hand with each other. If there is an increase in research regarding the environmental impact of a product, necessary steps can be taken by companies to ensure the product is not having adverse effects on the earth.


If “sustainability” or “going green” are neglected in future planning, the planet will be effected in a negative way. Due to the threat of the impact of our actions on the future generation, it is essential that the environmental impacts of products are researched so we can move forward together.

More in Environment