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What Is the Difference Between Going Green and Sustainability?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: April 3, 2020

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: April 3, 2020


Nowadays, it seems like everyone is talking about sustainable living. But they are also talking about going green, being eco-friendly, earth-friendly, and many other buzzwords! How can you know what is the difference between going green and sustainability? We’ll tell you exactly what to know, and how to start living both green and sustainably right now.

Going Green: What Does it Mean and How to Start

“Going green” is all over the news, commercials, our social media feeds, and in stores as well. But just exactly what does going green mean? The better you understand what it means to go green, the better you will be successful at helping to make a difference.

UoPeople student holding plants in hand in shape of heart Photo by Min An from Pexels

1. Going Green: A PR Campaign?

“Going green” can be used by some companies as a PR campaign to hide other not-so-earth-friendly practices. They may look at their supply chain and make a few small changes while not looking at the bigger picture.

For example, a clothing company might create a sustainable line of clothing, while neglecting the fact that by being a clothing company in today’s world of fast fashion, they are inherently causing damage to the earth by being a consumption-based company.

However, there are many companies that do try to make a genuine change, and you can too!

2.  Conserve Resources

The earth’s resources are being consumed faster than we can sustain them — the trees that make paper, houses, and furniture, the water we drink, and the natural metals and compounds that create the things we use for living are examples of earth’s resources we use every day. An important part of going green is to conserve resources we consume.

3. Reduce Pollution

In our everyday lives, pollution is a part of living. From the soap that goes down the drain, to the food packaging we throw out, and the gas that is emitted during transportation — we are polluting all day long. Try to become cognizant of times when you are releasing chemicals or products into the environment, and think of ways you can reduce the amounts.

4. Conserve Energy

In recent decades, humankind has come to realize that many of our current energy sources (natural gas, coal, water) are finite. There are also still some issues with sustainability harvesting sunlight as an energy source as well (solar panels contain toxic materials and need to be frequently replaced). The best thing to do for the earth right now is to conserve your energy use overall.

5. Reduce Consumption

Recycling alone just won’t cut it anymore. If you really want to be as green as possible, you need to start by reducing overall consumption.

When purchasing something, ask yourself, “Do I really need this?” Think about if you already have something similar that you can use instead of buying new. If you definitely need something new, see about buying used or borrowing from a friend.

6. Reduce Waste

When you reduce waste, it means using items until you absolutely cannot use them anymore. Ultimately, that means less items end up in the landfill, and there is less need for production of replacement items.

What is Sustainability?

Sustainability can be defined as, “the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.”

Sustainability is about remembering that the earth is made up of finite sources, and taking steps to maintain that the earth will be able to sustain itself over the long-term. It is not just about plants, but also includes the welfare of the global community.

Define Eco-Friendly

Being eco-friendly means thinking about the ecology of the earth and making sure the products you consume, and the practices you keep, have a minimal impact on the earth itself.

Eco-Friendly Products

Many products will be labeled as eco-friendly, but what exactly does that mean?

First of all, the products should be non-toxic. This means that they are made without toxic materials or toxic pesticides and herbicides. Eco-friendly products may be made with recycled materials such as glass, wood, metal, or plastics that have been broken down from a wasted item and reconstituted into something new.

Eco-friendly products should contain ingredients that were sustainably grown or manufactured — which means to be done so with minimal damage to the earth and community where they come from.


Unfortunately, some companies participate in “greenwashing” which is to label a product as “eco-friendly” or “environmentally friendly” without doing due diligence to make sure that is correct.

Other companies may produce “eco-friendly” products to cover up other not eco-friendly practices within the supply chain. To avoid falling for this, make sure to thoroughly research a brand before you buy. Don’t just believe labels unless they are certified statements.

Misconception: Why the Confusion?

Many industries have started noticing their impact of their sourcing, manufacturing, and distributing on the earth. While many companies have traditionally worked towards a sustainable future, they may not have environmentally-friendly or “green” practices.

University of the People students in field thinking of sustainability Photo by Min An from Pexels

What Can You Do?

Start with these tips, and you’ll be living greener in no time.

1. Setting Goals

The first step is to set goals for yourself or your organization. Setting goals means that you have something in mind and you take steps to get you there. For example, a goal could be to stop using disposable coffee cups. Start small by bringing your travel mug with you at least once a week, and move up to every day.

Don’t get down if you forget, just try to remember next time! You can start slow by making small changes and work your way up the sustainable, environmentally friendly ladder.

2. The Lifestyle: Living Sustainably

Once you start to learn about all the things you can and should do for sustainable living, it can become overwhelming and you may feel like you could never live fully sustainably. But remember, it is a lifestyle choice and a journey.

You can start small and work your way up to more challenging ways of sustainable living.

3. Reduce Light Usage

Remembering to turn off the lights (or any appliances) when you aren’t using them is an easy way to conserve energy. You can also try to buy energy efficient light bulbs and appliances.

4. Use Less Water

Using less water is another way you can conserve resources and consume less. Turn off the water when you are scrubbing dishes or brushing your teeth. Try taking shorter showers, and avoid unnecessary baths.

5. Drive Less

Use other modes of transportation such as walking or biking instead of taking your car. If you do need a vehicle, try taking public transportation or carpooling to reduce your carbon footprint.

University of the People student walking a bike to work Photo by Clem Onojeghuo from Pexels

6. Reuse

Reusing items and products is an integral part of living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. By reusing, you are limiting waste, and reducing a need for further manufacturing of new things.

7. Buy Local

When you buy local, you are not only supporting local farms and businesses, but you are supporting the global environment by reducing shipping fuels from foods and supplies that have to travel long distances.

What is the Difference Between Going Green and Sustainability and Eco-Friendly?

Many people confuse going green, sustainability, and eco-friendly — but the differences between the three aren’t so difficult once you look into it.

Simply put:

  • Going green refers to all aspects of environmentally-friendly products from fashion to buildings to the movement as a whole.
  • Eco-friendly means that a product, practice, or activity won’t harm the environment.
  • Sustainability means that what we do today doesn’t deplete resources for future generations.

Buying Green vs Buying Sustainable

Some products may be considered green due to their makeup, but they may not be considered sustainable due to their production.

For example, a product made from renewable sources such as a wooden hairbrush is considered green, however if a life-cycle analysis of the production process showed that it takes a lot of energy to manufacture and ship and there is no way to properly dispose of the hairbrush when you are finished, it is not sustainable.

Ideally, you should try to find brands and products that are both green and sustainable.

Shopping for products in a sustainable store Photo by Polina Tankilevitch from Pexels

Clean vs. Nontoxic vs. Organic

This one is also simple once you learn that “clean” means free of chemicals or materials that are synthetic, and are usually natural ingredients only.

Non-toxic means something does not contain chemicals or materials that are harmful to humans or the environment.

Organic means ingredients are grown without pesticides or herbicides. Organic products have a rigid certification process that varies by country, however the other two claims, clean and non-toxic, do not.

Impact on Future Generations

When it comes to impact on future generations, each is just as significant as the other. Without green and eco-friendly products and practices, the earth will suffer; and without sustainable activities, we may deplete resources.

Online University: The Green Way to Study

University of the People is the ultimate green school — as a fully online university, there is no carbon footprint from travel to classes, no energy used to operate facilities, no physical resources used to build buildings, technology, and books. A truly zero-waste way to get a degree!

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.