What is the difference between sustainability, environmental and eco-efficiency, what are good examples?

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Today, some of the biggest buzzwords are ‘sustainability’, ‘environmental’, and ‘eco-efficiency’, but what do they really mean? Are they all just different ways of referring to the same thing or are they each fundamentally different? 

In this article, we’re going to explore the various ‘green’ terms in greater depth to paint a clearer understanding. Which one applies most to your situation? And is there anything that you can do to contribute towards such noble causes? Read on and let’s find out! 

What is sustainability?

So, what is sustainability? Well, the literal definition of sustainability is: “that ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”, however, in the wider sense, sustainability refers to the societal goal relating to the ability for humans to safely co-exist with one another and their environment, on earth for the foreseeable future. 

There are specific definitions of sustainability – many of which are difficult to agree on as they have varied literature and context. One source will say one thing, while another source will argue something entirely. 

Ultimately, sustainability is about survival. It’s about us as people, business owners, consumers, and creatures of this blue marble of ours – and our ability to stick around for good, without negatively impacting everything we touch. 

Examples of sustainability

There are many examples of sustainability which is one of the main reasons why so many people find it difficult to agree on one ‘official’ definition of the concept. Here are a few to help you digest: 

  • Societal sustainability: societal sustainability refers to the systems, structures, and relationships that actively support the capacity for both current and future generations to live healthy, happy, and productive lives in liveable communities. Mental health awareness, education, nutrition, and compassion are just some examples of the buzzwords frequently used in societal sustainability. 
  • Sustainable forest management: according to TheWorldCounts.com, over 1 billion hectares of rainforest have been cut down in the last 40 years. In order to desperately combat this, many charities and conservation organisations are trying to introduce various laws and sanctions that require lumber companies and other corporations that are causing so much destruction in the name of profit to slow down their operations with sustainability in mind. For example, replanting x-amount of trees for every single one that they cut down. 
  • Sustainable agriculture: this form of sustainability practices assimilates ecological and biological processes into traditional agriculture industries in order to minimise non-renewable reliance and inorganic methodology. Things like crop rotation and water management contribute significantly to this end. 
  • Sustainable construction: the global construction industry is massive and many companies are striving toward sustainability by building homes with sustainable materials using energy from renewable sources. 
  • Renewable energy: wind farms, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric and some fine examples of clean, renewable energy. Of course, the biggest challenge is moving the gargantuan fossil-fuel tycoons away from the immensely profitable trillion-dollar practices that are destroying our environment. 
  • Sustainable water management: using various water purification methods such as reverse osmosis and filtration, we can strive toward ensuring our freshwater sources are not depleted. Even little things like having eco-flushes and eco-taps in all public establishments would go a long way toward achieving this end. 
  • Sustainable waste management: every year the world dumps a whopping 2.12 billion tonnes of waste into landfills. That’s not to mention all the plastic and other waste materials polluting our oceans. Sustainable waste management refers to recycling efforts and safer, more sustainable ways of breaking down non-biodegradable waste. 

Most of these examples refer to sustainability in the environmental sense, however, sustainability can also refer to the way in which we consume. For example, shopping responsibly, buying meat and veg from sustainable agriculture, avoiding plastic bags and packaging, and so on. 

What is environmental? 

And what is meant by environmental? The literal definition of the word environmental is: “relating to the natural world and the impact of human activity on its condition”. This is pretty much bang on, given how much of a negative impact we have had on the world in recent history – including the many species of animal that have been driven to extinction as a result of our recklessness. 

Examples of Environmental

Environmental and sustainability are very closely related, but to give you more of an idea as to how the two differentiate, here are some examples:

  • Bio-diversity: the study of biodiversity is critical to ensuring that we better understand the complexity of our natural environment and do as much as we can protect it. Every species plays a role in the natural order of the world and bio-diversity is intent on maintaining that balance. For example, a world without mosquitos and spiders sounds wonderful, right? However, without these creatures, the world would look very different – and not necessarily in a good way. 
  • Conservation: conservation refers to the process of protecting green areas and natural habitats to allow flora and fauna to thrive untouched by human interaction. No building and construction, no hunting, no foraging. As it stands, there are more than 200,000 terrestrial nature reserves across the globe today (not nearly enough). 
  • Composting: environmental isn’t just about what leaders and corporations can do to reduce their impact on the environment, but what we as individuals can do as well. Composting is an excellent example of this; reducing your daily household waste and using an electric composter in your home is a prime example of taking environmental action into your own hands.  

What is eco-efficiency?

And finally, what is eco-efficiency? In a nutshell, eco-efficiency is a management strategy built on the idea of doing more with less. It can refer to entire nations and individual products. It can relate to businesses, production facilities, and households.  

Examples of eco-efficiency

Here are some examples of eco-efficiency: 

  • Energy-efficiency LEDS: replacing your incandescent lightbulbs with LEDs is an example of eco-efficiency at the most basic level; lighting your home more effectively whilst simultaneously using less energy.
  • Switching to sustainable production methods: an organisation becomes more eco-efficient if and when they switch to using sustainable production methods such as using bio-renewable and recycled raw materials for the creation of their products. 
  • Adding tinted windows to your office: something as seemingly insignificant as tinting the windows in an office can significantly reduce the amount of energy wasted on air-conditioning throughout the year. This simple act makes a business more eco-efficient, thus reducing its carbon footprint. 


As you can see, sustainability, environment, and eco-efficiency are all very closely connected with much overlap between the various examples listed above. Ultimately, they each tie into a much wider battle against the ‘profit over life’ mentality that is slowly destroying our livelihood, this beautiful world, and the animal and plant life that we share it with.  

Do what you can.