In recent years, the focus on protecting our planet has been an increasingly discussed topic. New information, better technology, alternate research, and trendy lifestyle blogs seem to spring up constantly. This excess of information can make living your own environmentally conscious lifestyle difficult.

To get a better understanding of where these differences lie, we might start with a definition of sustainability that came out of a 1987 conference at the United Nations: Sustainable entities are those that meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Here’s another definition of sustainability from the Environmental Protection Agency:

While the term “green” reflects the environmental movement in general, “sustainable” has clear-cut criteria built right into its definition. Sustainability takes the notion of green to the next level and challenges us to look deeper. Webster’s Dictionary describes it as, “of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.” For a product, service or action to be considered sustainable, it cannot use any resource at a rate in which the resource is unable to be replenished

Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations.

With these definitions in mind, striving to be completely sustainable through movements such as Zero Waste is far more easily understood that it is undertaken. Sustainability has set requirements that going green doesn’t.

However, that doesn’t mean striving towards a sustainable future isn’t worthwhile. Adapting our choices and mentalities is an important first step. We can be green while we all work towards being sustainable. Some may choose personal goals like switching to LED light bulbs and installing water efficient showerheads. Others may choose more involved methods, like working towards a neutral carbon footprint. No matter how you decide to get started, consistency and knowledge are key. Protecting our planet is a goal we all can work towards, even while we’re still trying to get the differences between the terms straight.

Life isn’t easy when you place a high value on sustainability. Like it or not, our society has evolved to consume resources at an alarming rate with little regard for the long-term consequences. For me, living more sustainably is a journey rather than a destination. There are a number of things I can do on my own to live in a more sustainable manner –like reducing my use of plastic and improving my home’s energy efficiency, for example. And there are other things I need to do as a community member –like helping to promote farmer’s markets, community gardens, and mixed-use development. Above all, I need to keep learning, talking to others, and taking action where and when I can.

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