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

“Green?”

“Clean?”

You say “tomato,” I say…

Yes, word distinction is important. But as Kristin Hansen pointed out in the first part of her interview about these two words, the goal is to motivate people to protect our natural resources using words they respond to and trust.

Hansen is the Sustainability Analyst at the University of California, San Diego. The university names its effort in this arena, “Sustainability 2.0: A Living Laboratory.” Talk about pressure when it comes to making strides in this particular effort.

Sustainability 2.0 Website
(Credit: UCSD)

After all, the school notes:

“Environmental sustainability is in UC San Diego’s institutional DNA, inherited from our forebears at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In 1957, Scripps Oceanography Director Roger Revelle warned that greenhouse gases from industrialization could endanger the planet. The following year, Scripps geochemist Charles Keeling began his precise measurement of atmospheric carbon dioxide, and the “Keeling Curve,” named for him, is ‘the most important geophysical measurement of the 20th century.’”

Keeling Curve Exhibit at the Birch Aquarium
(Credit: Flickr User Around the Americas)

So UCSD has its own big shoes to fill.

The good news: It certainly is. From building innovative green campus buildings to offering a wide range of courses in environmental sciences to producing clean energy that provides 85 percent of the university’s electricity, UCSD is focusing on making the school as environmentally progressive as possible.

Its goals include: Achieving zero waste by 2020, being “climate neutral” by 2025, training sustainability leaders, constructing buildings that meet LEED Silver standards or better, and providing global leadership in smart grid initiatives.

All in a day’s work for this university.

With those goals in mind, Hansen’s insight on the subject of word distinction is highly welcome. The second part of her interview follows:

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Why do you think these words, “green” and “clean” have become so important?
Inspiring books such as Silent Spring, written in the early 60’s drew attention to the alarming impact pollution has on our environment and health. The need for clean air and clean water was becoming more evident. Additional concerns surrounding human impact on the environment drew attention to the need to conserve our rainforests, whales, ozone layer and more. There was a need for a term to encompass these efforts and many used the term “green.”

Momentum surrounding these issues grew with additional reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Governments began discussing “going green” and the importance of clean air and water. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, was the first agreement for major nations – other than the US – that addressed the mitigating of greenhouse gas emissions. The term green was becoming commonly used at this point by governments, citizens and even businesses.

The initial momentum behind these words was spurred by concerns for our own health. Governments continued the discussion and adopted policies addressing climate issues.

Now, businesses continue to keep these terms relevant. Increasing interest has generated around the words because often “going green” helps companies realize savings. Many corporations such as Wal-Mart have seen great success result from their green efforts that then brought great returns in financial savings and positive press.

Do you think over time that these words will become blended into one meaning?
I believe these terms will take on more distinct definitions in the future, but only time will tell.

From what I understand, some worry that the word, “Green,” is associated with left-leaning political movements. There’s the Green Party, for instance. And Greenpeace. Is that why some people say “Clean.” Is clean a more innocuous term?
Both clean and green have connotations associated with their meaning that can be controversial. Green has been highly politicized. As a result, many conservative groups tend to use “Clean” and often more “left-leaning” movements employ “Green” for motivating their audience.

Republican President George W. Bush had discussed clean coal in his discussions of environmental issues, while President Obama’s administration created the first Special Advisor of Green Jobs  and appointed Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy, to the position.

Terms such as clean coal have further politicized the term clean. It is by no means innocuous. The Sierra Club launched an entire campaign to combat the use of “Clean” in the clean coal messaging and marketing.

“Beyond Coal” Campaign Website
(Credit: Sierra Club)

It seems that every term created to describe environmental efforts has been manipulated by various groups. There may never be one all-encompassing word that every political group will embrace, but I like to think there is hope.

There also seems to be confusion over “Greentech” and “Cleantech.” Again, is there a distinction?
These two terms are more closely related than the general uses of green and clean, but “Clean” appears more predominately when discussing technology that focuses on energy efficiencies and mitigating environmental impacts.

– – –

Thank you Ms. Hansen for participating in this fascinating topic. It’s pretty amazing how “green” has gone from describing a color to capturing an environmental movement. And “clean” has gone from parents throughout the land saying “Clean your room!” to describe efforts to create less polluting energy.

Mike Stetz, Senior Writer
Collaborative Services, Inc.

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