Tweeting Sustainably: Are You Using These Terms Intelligently?

It’s a great thing when topics related to sustainability get attention on social media. But it’s important to know what you’re talking about.

Climate Change vs. Global Warming


In our July 2011 post, Leni Schimpf explains how global warming is different from climate change:

There is variability in the effects of weather around the world that does not only include warming. In Kenya there will be a lot less precipitation, whereas, in New York, we can expect more rain, more humidity, and hotter days.

“Climate change,” unlike “global warming,” considers regional differences and trends over time. It is important to be aware of the fact that countries like the United States contribute to climate change the most, and yet, for a variety of economic and circumstantial reasons, will not experience its worst effects. India, for example, is poorly situated to deal with climate change. 

Hunger vs. Food Insecurity


Since “hunger” has multiple meanings, experts in sustainability often opt to use “food insecurity.” The topic is often left out of the climate change discussion. Climate change will affect developing nations the most, according to bond rating firm Standard & Poor.

Africa, especially, stands to be the most vulnerable continent.  “Among the risks the continent faces are reductions in food security and agricultural productivity, particularly regarding subsistence agriculture,” according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Organic vs. "Organic"


Scientists refer to something as “organic” if it contains carbon atoms (organic chemistry deals exclusively with different carbon-based molecules). All food has carbon atoms, but nobody ever says that all food is organic, right?

Outside of the scientific community, “organic” is a defined term by many governments. According to the USDA National Organic Program, it’s reserved for foods that “foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.” In addition, “synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used.” Food producers must become “Certified Organic” and meet compliance standards.

In addition, consumers often purchase organic foods under the incorrect assumption that they are healthy. A package of cookies could be considered organic, but probably isn’t healthy.

Natural vs. Healthy


We see the word “natural” on a daily basis, almost to the point of it losing any meaning.  When speaking about food, it could have a number of different meanings. Unlike the term “organic,” there is no established legal definition in most countries, including the United States.  However, in Canada, “natural food” cannot contain added vitamins, mineral nutrients, or additives.

Even more problematic, “natural” is often mistaken to mean “healthy.” Food manufacturers are largely free to set their own definition of the word – and advertise their products accordingly.

Power vs. Energy

In everyday conversation, “energy” and “power” mean the same thing. They’re not. For example, TNT contains very little energy but delivers a lot of power, whereas for gasoline it’s the opposite. When you’re talking about sustainability (and browsing the Planet Forward website), it’s important to know that power is the rate at which energy is used.  

So when discussing, say, “solar power,” know that you’re talking about power generated by a photovoltaic cell (as opposed to “solar energy,” which the photovoltaic cell uses to create solar power). 

Green vs. Sustainable


Perhaps most importantly, it’s key to understand the meaning of sustainability. Often used interchangeably with “green” and “renewable,” this may or may not be accurate.

There’s an economic and social justice dimension to the word, which is why topics of food insecurity and climate change are all closely intertwined. Unsustainable practices made in one part of the world affect the world as a whole.

What do you think? Are there other words related to sustainability that often go misused? Share your ideas in the comments section below. 

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