Welcome to the Clearly Sustainable series of podcasts exploring the meaning of English words and terms used in relation to all things sustainable. This series is distributed by Global Action Plan International and presented by Victor Branagan of SustainED. We hope you find this series useful.
Hi everyone, I am your host Victor and joining me today, in this, the third episode in the series, is Yota (Hi everyone) and we will explore the use of the word ‘green’ within the context of sustainability. We will look at terms such as ‘green washing’ – ‘green jobs’ – ‘going green’ and ‘green lifestyle’ amongst others.
So everyone knows that the word green as an adjective refers to the colour. However, with respect to sustainability, the word green has developed several new meanings. How did this association with green begin?
Since the 1960’s, there has been a ‘green political party’ in many countries worldwide. These are political parties that have supported the idea that the environment should be a priority in a government’s decisions, policies and legislation. Such parties are often referred to simply as ‘the greens’ and individual members of the party as being ‘a green’. So the adjective can be used as a noun in this sense.
The association of the word ‘green’ to environmental and ecological matters is now very well established and what is known as the ‘green agenda’ has been incorporated into mainstream politics in many countries.
But it is no longer just a political issue.
This use of the term green has spread to all aspects of life from this early political meaning. Nowadays, any effort to reduce an environmental impact is said to be green – so, for example, reducing the waste water flowing from a business premises is referred to as ‘green initiative or a green project’. Furthermore, we use the term ‘green business’ to denote a business that incorporates environmental issues into its strategies. This, however, is a loose term and can cover everything from some very simple measures to extensive programmes of environmental repair and restoration.
Okay, so am I correct in saying that ‘sustainability’ is a much bigger issue than just ‘green’, even though many people often use the terms interchangeably?
Yes, that is correct.
So does the term green only refer to ecological or environmental issues?
Strictly speaking, yes, but in practice, it is not so clear. Often, the individuals and organisations working towards sustainability do not work solely on an environmental basis but can also be involved in social issues. Sustainability refers to a balance of environmental, social and economic issues and there are now a multiple of approaches to a more sustainable future, which are much bigger than ‘green’ issues.
Despite this, terms such as ‘green business’ are often used to cover the full spectrum of sustainability issues, though the origin of the term refers to environmental issues only. For instance, many businesses are now engaged in corporate social responsibility – which will be the topic of another episode in this series – and the term refers to businesses acting responsibly in respect of their customers, supply chains, employees and society generally. This includes good environmental practices but also wider social issues.
So are these the businesses that are creating ‘green’ jobs?
Yes, indeed, linked to green business is the topic of green jobs. This refers to jobs such as environmental engineer, ecological scientists, nature preservation roles etc. Again, the term is often used to cover jobs across the wider sustainability spectrum and can include any work related to better business practices, such as sustainability strategist, green supply chain manager, community officer etc.
What about consumers and the green market?
Ah yes, good question. There is now the ‘green’ market, which refers to those consumers who actively make buying decisions based on the environmental impact of a product or in favour of a specific green business. This market is growing strongly in many countries.
Another term used is ‘green lifestyle’, which is associated with one’s personal life choices and can refer to a very wide range of practices, such as yoga, healthy eating, cycling and many others, and not exclusively choices based on environmental concerns only.
The process of becoming more and more involved in a range of these issues is sometimes referred to as ‘going green’ and this can be said about a person or an organisation. So you can say ‘Mary has sold her car and bought a bicycle as she is going green’ or ‘the business has decided to change its strategy and is going green ’.
Another term that I hear used a lot is ‘green washing’ and it is often a negative term. Can you please explain what it is.
Well, the problem is that as protecting the environment becomes mainstream, many politicians, organisations and businesses seek to use any ‘green initiative’ they undertake for promotional purposes. Whilst it is encouraging that such projects are being undertaken, there is the problem with what is called ‘green washing’ and this refers to an advertising or marketing campaign which exaggerates the environmental benefits of a specific product or service in order to increase sales.
For example, a car company using nature photos to promote an engine that has slightly improved fuel consumption and implying that they are saving the whole planet by doing so. The danger with green washing is that it leads to cynicism and mistrust across the market and consumers can have trouble believing the validity or honesty of any green initiative. This is a particular problem for the very committed businesses that are greatly reducing their environmental impact.
Thank you for clearing up those terms for us, Victor. I recognize that I need to be clearer in my use of these terms. It would be a lot easier if definitions stayed constant and separate but I suppose that will never happen.
Well, that is the nature of a living language, I’m afraid. Okay everyone, this concludes episode 3 of this series and we hope you have found these explanations useful. Thank you to Yota for her help with this episode and we look forward to you joining us for the rest of the series. Thank you.