The Difference Between Green and Greener

It will take time to get green. (Photo: HM Design/Shutterstock)

None of us are green until we're all green.

A couple of months ago on Twitter I (half) jokingly suggested that green was dead, victim to a glut of people, products and companies claiming to be green. My contention was that we needed a new term to describe something that's actually environmentally and socially sustainable. It was late at night and I was feeling kind of silly and came up with "freen". It actually took off and got semi-popular for a few weeks on Twitter, people dug the idea of something beyond what "green" has become.

I've come around to using "greener" in place of "green". "Green" suggests something that does no harm to the environment, society or individuals. A leaf falling off a tree is green -- it lands on the ground and turns back into dirt. A loaf of organic bread isn't green. It's greener -- it's still wrapped in a plastic bag sitting in a store that it was driven to after being baked. The company that made and sold the bread has office space that needs power and electricity and their employees drive to work every day.

Organic T-shirts are greener. They are free of the pesticides conventional cotton shirts come bundled with, but they still require a lot of energy (and equipment) to manufacture, market, and sell, not to mention 2,500 liters of water each.

There's a big difference between green and greener and we as a society need to recognize it. We can't pat ourselves on the back thinking the job is done when we're all greener, we need to keep on chugging until we're all green. The only way that's going to happen is if EVERYTHING is green. The electricity that comes out of the outlets and the fuel used to drive from the factory to the store need to come from renewable sources, the cars used to dive us to the store need to be powered by green energy, the materials used to build it need to be either compostable or fully recyclable.

We have a LONG way to go to get green. We're just dipping our toes into greener, green is a good generation or two away, even under a best-case accelerated track.

There's a fantastic article on the Times Online that looks at life-cycle assessments (LCA) -- reports that go into precise detail about the environmental impact of a product. When I say precise, I mean PRECISE -- a glass jar could have thousands of steps with trackable environmental impacts, ranging from the mining of the silica to the baking of the glass to the shipping and packaging. That glass jar isn't green until each one of those thousands of steps comes with no associated negative environmental impact. To get that one little glass jar to be green we need to green up everything around it.

That's why we're a long way from the world actually being green. It's a complex bleeping problem.

Thanks to my green pal Aysia Wright, owner of The Green Loop (awesome eco-chic fashion), for sharing the life-cycle assessment link.