Going Green or Being Clean – So Which is it? (Part I)

To kick off our latest blog topic, word distinction, we’re tackling “green” and “clean,” which have seemingly become interchangeable.

If you’re confused about the difference between “green” and “clean” when it comes to describing environmental awareness, activity and products, you’re not alone.

There’s little wonder why confusion occurs. After all, there’s Greenpeace, an environmental organization, and there’s also Clean Peace, a company that sells organic cleaning supplies. There’s green energy and clean energy. There’s green technology and clean technology. There’s the Green Car Institute and the Clean Car Campaign.  You can eat green, as well as eat clean.

Green Cars
(Credit: Michael Craven, Creative Commons)

See the problem?

In our two-part interview this week, we will learn from our guest blogger, Kristin Hansen, the sustainability analyst at the University of San Diego California, there are distinctions between the two.

It can be confusing to say the least. And to make matters even more daunting, it’s not just the words “green” and “clean” that are used to describe the effort to be more environmentally aware and active in protecting our resources.

Hansen once worked at a Christian college where the word choice was “creation care.” It was coined by evangelical Christians who believe it is their responsibility to be better stewards of the earth.

But “green” and “clean” are used most frequently in mass marketing and communications as ways to entice our better behavior environmentally speaking through our actions and how we spend our dollars.

Why is this important? Well, just about every agency and business is concerned about the impact they are having on the environment. They are recycling to reduce waste. They are tele-working to help employees reduce vehicle miles traveled and the carbon emissions that go along with those  miles. In California, the value of a commercial building will also start to be measured in part by the energy efficiency of that building beginning January 2013.

iCommute Program
(Credit: San Diego Association of Governments)

Knowing whether and when you’re clean or green will be an important part of decisions for your home and the promotions of your business. We thank Ms. Hansen for providing her valuable experience and insight using these terms to motivate change.

– – –

We all know that concerns about the environment are front-and-center today. But what word best describes the effort to protect it: “Clean?” or “Green?”
These umbrella terms, “Clean” and “Green” have multiple meanings. In order to motivate people to protect our environment, there will be a need for various words that are more effective with specific people.

As the Sustainability Coordinator for a Christian college in San Diego, I noticed that I had great success in my sustainability and environmental efforts when I chose the correct word to communicate my efforts.  Many people were turned off by the term “green.”  It was then that I realized it is not the term that is important, but the communication to get to an end result.  Whether we use “Clean,” or “Green,” “Environmental,” “Creation care,” or “Sustainability” the ultimate goal is to focus on protecting our natural resources for future generations.

California Boating Clean & Green Campaign
(Credit: California Coastal Commission)

Are these words interchangeable or is there a distinction between the two?
These words have been used interchangeably by many, but there are distinct connotations. I often hear the two interchanged when discussing technology, but the two do have different meanings. Although many individuals and companies interchange these two words, there is still an underlying distinction.

What is it?
Clean refers to having less or no contaminants than an alternative option (clean air act, cleantech, clean coal) and often refers to innovative new practices that utilize efficiencies. Green refers to environmental sustainability and the conservation of natural, fiscal, and social resources.

Do you know their origins when it comes to describing environmental awareness?
Environmental action launched and greatly increased in the 1960’s and 70’s. With this movement came the Clean Air Act [emphasis added].  This monumental act addressed environmental concerns and regulated air pollutants at a national level.

Popularization of “Green” can be seen as far back as 1971 with the creation of the now well-known organization, Greenpeace.  These two words have become even more popular as understandings of the threats of global warming become more public.  Documentaries such as Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth brought topics of clean energy and green efforts to the mainstream spotlight.  Both words continue to grow in their usage as companies describe their efforts to do their part for the environment.

– – –

Part II of this interview will continue later this week.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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