My Green Rant

Can We Find Another Word for Green?
I know it’s completely off base as an environmental writer and editor, but I’ve really grown tired of “green” as a synonym for “environmental.” It would be fine if used on occasion, perhaps when writing about organic summer cocktails or BPA-free beach toys. But in general, it’s too cutesy (even worse is the term “greenie.” I’ve never met anyone who thinks of herself or refers to herself that way). Green is a media construct; a way for businesses to tout their buy-ability without actually doing anything; it’s a hollow word that suggests a commitment-free environmentalism. And yet, it’s unavoidable.

There are literally three ways that we circle ‘round to describe something environmental here in the environmental magazine trenches: environmental (a good word, but clunky); eco (short for ecological, and yet confusing to a lot of people); and green.

So green is the go-to: we’re greening our homes, we’re building green, we’re going green, we’re a green team or a green scene debating whether it is or isn’t easy being green (I seriously don’t think there’s a publication in the country that hasn’t relied on some variation of Kermit’s “It’s Not Easy Being Green” as the headline for an environmental story). Also crazy-inducing: The limitations of the word “green” to mean anything substantial about the extent of a person—or product’s—environmental attributes has now led some publications to describe people—or things—as “light” or “dark” green. This just compounds an already irritating problem.

And yet it seems to have no acceptable alternative other than good old “eco” or “environmental.” “Green” is not interchangeable with “sustainable” or “renewable” (both of which suggest something specific about a material’s lifecycle) and the word “natural” has almost come to be a negative in environmental circles. So many foods, products and ingredients have been slapped with that unregulated, meaningless “all natural” claim that the description itself has become nearly synonymous with “fake.” (Unless you are actually describing something related to the natural world, in which case natural actually means natural).

You can’t use “clean” unless you are talking about energy; and any word involving “earth” or “planet” (“planet-friendly” comes to mind) tends to come off as too hokey—OK for an elementary school Earth Day bulletin board but not a modern publication.

And so we are left with green, whatever it means.