adjective \ ˈgrēn \
1. of the color green
2. covered by green growth or foliage • green fields
3a. often capitalized relating to or being an environmentalist political movement
3b. concerned with or supporting environmentalism • green consumers who practice recycling
3c. tending to preserve environmental quality (as by being recyclable, biodegradable, or nonpolluting) • greener energy solutions
The word “green” has always been infused with life: according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, its origins, circa the early thirteenth century, are Old High German, stemming from the word gruoni (“to grow,” specifically in reference to plants and grass). Gruoni went on to influence Old English grene and Northumbrian groene, meaning “green, the color of living plants,” or, in reference to plants, “growing, living, vigorous.”
For roughly 700 years, “green’s” definition has not veered too far from its source. The word as it exists today has over ten definitions (though I have only focused on three), and they all relate back to the natural world somehow. Take, for example, the definition meaning “not fully qualified for or experienced in a particular function,” or “deficient in training, knowledge, or experience” (i.e., a green recruit). Perhaps the connection to nature is not immediately obvious, but when considering one of green’s other definitions—“not ripened or matured,” or “fresh, new”—it becomes clearer. There is something appealing and perhaps a bit magical about a word that was borne of observing and describing nature in its innate state: growing, living, and vigorous.
In the twentieth century, “green” began to shift into a decidedly more political word, wherein humans moved from observing nature to taking an active part in its protection and preservation. Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, and, a year later, the organization Greenpeace was founded for the purpose of, according to their website, “expos[ing] global environmental problems and promot[ing] solutions that are essential to a green and peaceful future.” Although Greenpeace has been a source of controversy and criticism, both it and Earth Day exemplify the third definition of “green,” which means “relating to or being an environmentalist political movement,” or “concerned with or supporting environmentalism.” The Green political movement has spanned nearly fifty years since its inception (in the United States, environmental protection has been a key issue for closer to one hundred years; the word green has simply come into play more recently). This movement spans strategies and scales, from direct anarchist actions to the outgrowth of green roofs in urban centers to individual efforts to compost. The connection to nature is still direct and explicit in this last definition, but the key difference is our own agency; in order to keep nature growing, living, and vigorous, we now have a responsibility to respect and protect it.