Sustainability, Eco-Responsible Products and Services #3pVOTE

This post is part of our year-end “year in review” sustainable business writing contest. We’ve asked 3p readers to submit their own thoughts about the state of sustainable business in 2010. More information about the contest is available here. All submitted articles will be available on this page. Voting will happen in January!

By Sylvia Hoehns Wright.

The term “sustainability” has definitely become a 21st century buzz word. Yet, we wonder – is it truly understood or through excessive use, has it rapidly become abused or confused? 

Recently, when I quoted Ed Snodgrass of Knoll Farms as saying, “Sustainability means we don’t take more out of the Earth than we are able to put back,” I received a flurry of email and blog responses.

Scott Kyle of Full Scale Architecture says the best definition he has heard comes from the Native American perspective of ‘providing for the needs of the current generation without sacrificing the needs of future generations’. “Still,” says Kyle “many folks and groups appear to corrupt its meaning which is a shame, because the term should mean a product or service that is truly green.”   

“Those of us in natural resource management fields,” says Ellen Powell a Conservation Education Coordinator for the Virginia Department of Forestry, “think of sustainability as the “truest” green. To us, it means balancing human consumption with ecological viability, so that the resource remains viable for all purposes. In today’s world, it’s unrealistic to think people will simply stop using renewable resources, such as forests. For example, if we stopped using wood as a building material, our alternatives would be materials that require more energy to manufacture such as steel. And, most of these alternative products are from finite, nonrenewable sources; in other words, not very green! On the other hand, we can provide both forest products and ecosystem services. Because land conserved through sustainable forestry is land conserved for clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, recreation, carbon sequestration, and a host of other benefits.” 

Similar to Ellen Powell’s perspective, Somphit Kham of Giving Sustainability defines sustainability as a product and/or service that is eco-friendly and contributes to social responsibility. On the other hand, Patricia Stansbury, principal of Epic Gardens has found the definition to be more philosophical or spiritual. “I have been invited to speak at a number of venues including churches about environmental stewardship as a matter of faith, and schools about how choosing locally produced food and consumer goods produces a more sustainable economy.”   

Anne Bedarf of GreenBlue Institute found it disturbing when Provost Tim Garson of University of VA described sustainability as ‘only about eco-efficiency’. She and her classmates forwarded a letter stating, “Sustainability is the ULTIMATE green; but it’s not a thing; rather, sustainability is a process, or a framework, by which our economy, people and planet can move toward equity and be self-sustaining. My work at ( is a sector in which industry, government and nonprofits work together to define sustainable packaging. So, I believe each sector of society should develop a definition of what sustainability means for them.” 

And, therein, as Bedarf acknowledges, sustainability appears to represent more than ‘green’. It is a way of living in the world with an ethical outlook that recognizes the impact of where we live, how we commute to class or work, what we eat, and what we buy as it relates to impacting other cultures and ecosystems near and far. So, the first step to acquiring sustainability is acceptance of individual accountability. Next, to create a sustainable community, do not limit this commitment to personal or neighborhood spaces; and instead, take it to work with you, encouraging employers to measure their eco-footprints. Then, collectively to ensure urban green, nation-wide – commit to creating eco-cities

While there may be differences of opinion related to a definition, together, let’s ‘green’ our Communities: move America’s landscape from eco-weak to eco-chic, creating sustainability, a legacy of healthy green.


Sylvia Hoehns Wright, recipient of the Turning America from Eco-weak to Eco-chic Award, specializes in eco-landscape/garden strategies. For details, see web site or contact or (804)672-6007.