Think of the last time you heard about going green. We bet it wasn't that long ago, maybe a few days or weeks. It seems like everyone is doing something green these days.
But what does it mean to go green, and is it the same as sustainable living, eco-friendliness, and all the other eco buzzwords?
In this article, we explain what being green means and how it differs or not from the other eco terminologies. We also share some advice on how you can get started on living green.
So the color has been used to depict living harmoniously with nature. No, it isn't hugging trees but using products made from natural ingredients that don't hurt the environment or are harmful to human beings.
The term entered the marketing world in the late 1980s1. And today, “green” has evolved into a blanket term to describe issues, products, services, processes, and everything related to a healthy environment and lifestyle.
On that note, many organizations allied with environmental protection have adopted the color as what best represents their mission. Look at the logos of Greenpeace, Green Cross International, European Environmental Bureau, etc. We also have terms like the green economy, jobs, and business.
There are probably hundreds of definitions, but there is no single universally agreed-upon definition of the environmental term “green.” However, you'll find that they all aim to save the planet from man-caused ruin.
Let's look at some definitions of green and green-related terms that researchers and organizations have come up with
Going green is defined as steps taken to conserve energy, reduce pollution and save money.
A green business functions in the best interests of the local and global environment, supporting the community and the economy that both depend on a healthy planet (source)
A green industrial policy is any government measure aimed at accelerating the structural transformation towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy in ways that also enhances the economy's productivity (source).
Green jobs are decent jobs that contribute to protecting and restoring the environment and addressing climate change (source)
To be green means to continually improve how resources are utilized so that impacts on human health and the environment are reduced without sacrificing the current and future needs of our world (source).
To go green is to become more environmentally aware and change your behavior and lifestyle to produce less pollution and waste (source)
Below are some general thoughts and ideas that make up the green philosophy:
Going green extends beyond recycling or eating only plants. It involves the foundational aspects of our world, from education, government, technologies, businesses, and social interaction.
The government has to create functional environmental laws and policies that encourage innovations for sustainability. They need sound science to support those measures, and that's where the scientific community comes in.
By adopting sustainable practices and technologies and purchasing eco-friendly and zero-waste products by consumers, we have green economy prosperity. And to maintain the momentum, children need to be educated about the natural world and their role in caring for it.
To go green is to build purposeful relationships with people and the natural world. That is important because many people go through life not mindful of how they impact the earth and its people.
Green relationships start with appreciating our family and immediate environment. Spending time with loved ones in nature helps promote positive emotions. It can also help us stop and take a break from mindless consumerism. Plus, being in nature is good for our mental health.
We also need to recognize a connection between our happiness and health to a lifestyle of environmental mindfulness. So building a symbiotic relationship with the planet is the most crucial element of going green.
There is a strong element of selflessness and charity in going green. Global community members are meant to care for each other, especially those less fortunate.
Also, one of the goals of a green economy is economic equity, which is why we have ethical labor laws and fair trade policies. Green companies are not driven by greed but put the people and planet before their pockets.
Green people pay attention to folks who are vulnerable economically and socially and come up with green initiatives to help them. These initiatives could be donating excess belongings, volunteering, or shunning brands that contribute to communal poverty through unfair wages.
Going green requires using only as many resources as we need for any task. We save costs and can direct excess materials to other purposes.
Environmentally friendly companies develop zero-waste manufacturing. They also make durable products that won't end up in landfills prematurely and create by-products from materials we would have otherwise discarded. Wouldn't you say that is an efficient way to do business?
The refuse, reuse, repurpose, and recycle principle of going green offers abundant possibilities for entrepreneurs. Consider how many innovative sustainable business ventures can rise from the tons of materials landfilled daily worldwide.
Going green means many different things to many different people. We believe it is finding a balance between your ideal lifestyle and its impact on the planet. You must be mindful enough to help preserve the planet and conserve its resources.
More on what going green means to us is below.
Every item on your shopping list comes from the earth’s many resources. Some of those resources are finite, like iron ore and water, while some are renewable, like trees.
Humans consume renewable resources faster than the planet can regenerate them and may leave nothing of non-renewable resources for future generations. By 2030, we will need two earths if current consumption trends continue3.
Consuming products and services responsibly means taking only what you need. And using it until it reaches its life end to avoid waste.
Even more, than recycling, it is a better way to conserve natural resources, as slow consumption will also slow down manufacturing. That can mean better quality products that last longer and save you money.
Every day human beings pollute the environment, from oil production, car emissions, and domestic and industrial wastewater to discarded food packaging.
Air pollution contributes to 6.7 million premature deaths yearly, and pollution on land from trash and chemicals degrades about 12 million hectares of land annually. Meanwhile, water pollution is responsible for about 80% of diseases and half of child deaths worldwide2.
We hope that our planet will be completely free from pollution one day, but for now, we will settle for actively reducing pollution.
The government must crack down on poor industrial waste disposal and promote green economy policies. Although the right government policies can go a long way to reduce pollution, you can do your part by taking small steps to green your lifestyle.
The energy sources that humans have depended on all these years, like coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear energy, are not renewable.
Renewable energy is the solution to both the eventual depletion of fossil fuels and their current impact on climate change. But it is still in its early stages and fraught with challenges such as being expensive to install and poor hazardous installations.
Solar panel fires are more dangerous to firefighters due to the risk of electric shock and toxic fumes.
Global warming is causing water temperatures to rise, endangering the marine ecosystem. Droughts and heat waves are more common. Research says sea levels will rise by 2 meters, hurricanes will be more intense, and even rainy regions will see 30% more wildfires.
Respiratory and cardiac illnesses, Lyme disease, water-related illnesses, injuries, and deaths are some ways climate change affects humans. And climate change also impacts mental health, all contributing to a growing sense of eco-anxiety.
The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that human activities are the main contributors to climate change. Industries are mostly to blame, but your patronage keeps these industries in business so you can make a difference.
Going green, in this case, means doing whatever you can to reduce your carbon footprint. You can start with energy-efficient appliances and purchasing carbon offsets. You can also support the sustainability cause by buying eco-friendly products, getting involved in tree planting projects, joining a car share, walking, cycling, or using more public transport to reduce travel-based emissions.
The earth is at the mercy of human beings. Overhunting, overfishing, pollution, agricultural deforestation, habitat degradation, introduction of invasive species, and climate change are some of the ways humans are steadily exterminating wildlife.
According to IPBES, over 1 million species are under threat of extinction. And The current human-induced extinction rate is about 100 and 1,000 times greater than past natural extinction events.
If the earth could fight back, it would. But since it can’t, it falls to you to make a difference. There are many things you can do to protect wildlife but to start simply, don't participate in animal abuse or buy exotic pets or their body parts.
Additionally, use recycled materials and less plastic. You could also give your voice to campaigns for sustainability.
Today, most people do not distinguish between the terms green, eco-friendly, sustainable, etc., because they all point to preserving the environment for the survival of future generations.
But if you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of it, here's some explanation.
From a narrow point of view, green refers to nature that covers products or processes that originate from natural sources. One would expect that something green mimics nature in its life cycle. That translates to renewability and biodegradability. So a bamboo utensil is green while a plastic spoon is not.
Sustainability is more complex than just going green. It can involve things that are not organic but still safe for the environment and fair to people. It considers the entire product or service lifecycle and ensures that every person involved and the earth suffers no adverse effects.
According to the International Labor Organization, going green is a means to achieve sustainability but is not a substitute for sustainability.
Other terms under the sustainability umbrella include
Eco-friendly — earth-friendly products designed to have the least possible environmental impact.
Non-toxic — materials and ingredients safe for humans and the planet.
Ethical — pays workers fair wages, provides a safe working environment, and avoids child or slave labor along the supply chain.
It would seem impossible that someone could go green without being sustainable. Still, it does happen especially when you look at the narrow definition of green as referring only to things of organic origins.
Think about it, using paper shopping bags rather than single-use plastic bags is a green choice. But consider this, in the United States alone, over 14 million trees are cut down to make paper bags yearly.
From that, you'll understand that although a paper bag is green, having to toss it out after one or two uses isn't sustainable. A green and sustainable option would be something reusable, like a durable organic cotton shopping tote.
In the face of rising climate concerns, words like eco, pure, natural, bio, and green are attractive to environmentally conscious consumers. Consumer brands know that and quickly splash these terms on their products.
Greenwashing is another instance where ‘green’ doesn't automatically translate to sustainable. It happens when brands present false claims of sustainability. They intentionally or unintentionally make people believe that they are doing more for the environment than they actually are.
They may have added a few organic ingredients, hired local people, or launched some superficial green initiative. But their production process, consumption of natural resources, and product end-of-life remain detrimental to environmental health.
For example, an article of clothing made from organic cotton is greener than one made from virgin polyester. But it's not sustainable if made with child labor.
Let's start with the most obvious; you'll feel great about how much you are doing to protect the earth.
But more importantly, you would protect yourself from toxins like VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and phthalates common in non-eco-friendly household products. Your food would also be free from GMOs and agrochemical residues.
Let's not forget that you'll also save money when you opt for reusables, second-hand goods, or repair and reuse.
Some people think that to go green, they have to spend a fortune on hybrid cars, sustainable clothing brands, solar panels, and organic food. Some others assume that a person has to live off the grid to go green.
All that is quite untrue. Going green is about living in moderation and harmony with the earth wherever you find yourself. If you can afford a hybrid car, great, but if you can't, a bicycle is just as green. Also, living off-grid is not an automatic guarantee that you are eco-friendly.
There are many ways to go green, but you don't have to start all at once. Because we live in a society that has operated on a take-use-dispose economy for so long, it can be overwhelming to go all in right away.
But with a few small changes here and there, you can get started with green living today. Below are some quick tips to start reducing your carbon footprint
If you look around, you'll find a number of things you absolutely had to buy but are now just lying unused and collecting dust.
Waving goodbye to buying stuff just because you can afford it is one of the core tenets of sustainable living. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't buy everything you need. You just have to be sure you need whatever you are buying.
Also, thrifting, renting, and borrowing are better options than purchasing in some instances. If you must buy, consider buying secondhand.
About 35% of what you pay for your electricity bill is energy that was wasted. You can do a few things to save energy and some money on your light bill. Start with air drying your clothes.
Then turn off the light bulbs in empty rooms during the day and at night. Also, be sure to buy only energy-efficient light bulbs and appliances.
If you turn off an appliance but leave it plugged in, it continues to draw electricity. So always unplug appliances and turn off sockets when not in use.
The emission of an average passenger vehicle is about 4.6 metric tons of CO2 yearly. Minimizing driving can significantly reduce your carbon footprint, so before you jump in your car, consider the green options.
If you live close to work, consider cycling or a brisk walk. For long distances, consider carpooling or taking public transportation. If you must drive or run multiple errands in a single trip.
You can go green with how you eat. Research suggests that about 10% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food that gets wasted.
Therefore, you should do your best to reduce the amount of food you throw away. We understand that food waste isn't intentional for most people, so we recommend you learn how to preserve food.
Apart from making sure to eat your leftovers, try to shop in bulk and eat seasonally.
We know the neat rows of unblemished produce in the supermarket aisles look so innocuous. But they usually have a high transport CO2 footprint.
Check out the local farmers market for a change. You'll get fresh, in-season foods with a smaller carbon footprint and fewer food miles.
Buying local supports local farms and the local economy. It also means that the farmers won't have to throw away produce because no one wants them, and they've gone bad.
Read more: 12 Reasons to Buy Local Food.
Eco-friendly products are sometimes expensive to manufacture due to unconventional manufacturing and the costs of eco certificates. So next time you are going shopping, go green with eco-friendly products. It is the best way to encourage brands that are embracing sustainability.
Eco-friendly products are also generally safer for your health as they are non-toxic. You'd be protecting your life by choosing eco-certified goods.
Water shortages are common in many parts of the world, even the US. But the average household wastes 180 gallons of water per week from household leaks. That's enough water to wash over 300 loads of laundry.
So you see how minor water-use changes could make a big difference. You should turn off the water while shaving or brushing and fix leaky faucets quickly.
Also, take shorter showers and only run your washing machine and dishwasher when you have a full load.
Read more: How to Reduce Water Waste at Home?
Plastic in the home surrounds us, many of them being single-use items—from disposable cutleries, straws, bags, bottles, toys, and so much more. Yet, only 9% of plastic waste is recycled globally.
You can easily swap certain plastic products for longer-lasting, environmentally friendly options. For example, replace plastic straws with wooden or steel reusable straws and single-use coffee cups or plastic water bottles with reusable coffee cups and reusable water bottles.
Less than 20% of the waste we create gets recycled yearly, and the rest fills up landfills.
That is surprising because recycling is probably the easiest eco-friendly thing you do. It can be as simple as throwing stuff in the correct recycling bin.
Something even easier than recycling is reusing stuff. For example, you can recycle fabric, reuse it as rags, and turn containers into planters.
You need to learn more about sustainability to continuously improve your environmentally friendly lifestyle. You can learn what can and cannot be recycled, how to recycle correctly, and some tricks for reusing materials. If you are particularly creative, you can even learn how to create beautiful crafts from waste.
So, what does it mean to go green? Going green is simply adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle. It is similar to sustainability.
To go green, you have to purposefully make small changes in your lifestyle until you are ready for bigger changes. Remember, going green isn't only beneficial for you. It is crucial in ensuring the well-being of future generations.
Sdrolia, E., & Zarotiadis, G. (2019). A COMPREHENSIVE REVIEW FOR GREEN PRODUCT TERM: FROM DEFINITION TO EVALUATION. Journal of Economic Surveys, 33(1), 150-178.
Lin L, Yang H and Xu X (2022) Effects of Water Pollution on Human Health and Disease Heterogeneity: A Review. Front. Environ. Sci. 10:880246. doi: 10.3389/fenvs.2022.880246
World Wildlife Federation (WWF). 2010 Living Planet Report (pdf). 2010
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.