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Renewable vs. Sustainable: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 11, 2023
Renewable refers to resources or energy that can be replenished naturally over time. Sustainable refers to pertains to practices or methods that don't deplete resources or harm the environment, ensuring long-term balance.

Key Differences

Renewable resources are those that can be replenished naturally over time, such as solar energy, wind power, or timber from sustainably managed forests. Sustainability, on the other hand, is a broader concept that encompasses the use of resources in a way that meets current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It implies balance, encompassing economic, environmental, and social dimensions.
The concept of renewability is often linked to natural cycles. For example, solar energy is considered renewable because the sun's energy is continuously produced. Sustainability, however, requires a more holistic approach. It's not just about using renewable resources but also about using them in a way that maintains ecological balance and social equity. A practice is sustainable if it can be continued indefinitely without causing harm or depletion.
In terms of energy, renewable energy sources like wind and solar power are inexhaustible and can be used repeatedly. However, for energy to be sustainable, it must also be produced and used in ways that minimize environmental impact and promote social welfare, considering factors like emissions, land use, and community impacts.
The agriculture sector illustrates this distinction well. Farming methods that rely on renewable resources, such as water from a naturally replenishing source, are important. However, for agriculture to be sustainable, it must also protect biodiversity, maintain soil health, and support the well-being of local communities.
Renewability often refers to the source of a material or energy. In contrast, sustainability considers the entire lifecycle, including production, use, and disposal. A product made from renewable resources might not be sustainable if its production or disposal causes environmental harm or if it's used in a wasteful, non-recyclable way.

Comparison Chart


Naturally replenishing resources or energy
Practices or methods ensuring resource longevity

Time Frame

Often short-term replenishment cycle
Long-term perspective, considering future impacts


Resource or energy source
Whole system including social, economic, and environmental aspects


Can be used repeatedly
Used without causing long-term harm or depletion

Environmental Impact

Generally low, but not always considered
Minimizing harm and maintaining ecological balance

Renewable and Sustainable Definitions


Relating to a natural resource that can be replenished.
Solar power is a renewable energy source.


Able to be maintained at a certain rate or level.
Sustainable fishing practices help preserve marine life.


Capable of being replaced or restored.
The forest provides renewable timber resources.


Pertaining to the long-term viability of processes or practices.
Sustainable urban development is crucial for future generations.


Pertaining to energy derived from replenishable sources.
The country is investing in renewable technologies.


Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion.
The company adopted sustainable manufacturing methods.


Endlessly available or recoverable.
Wind energy is a clean, renewable resource.


Involving methods that do not exhaust resources.
She promotes sustainable agriculture in her community.


Inexhaustible in the context of natural resources.
The river’s flow provides renewable hydroelectric power.


Meeting current needs without compromising future ones.
The project aims for sustainable economic growth.


Capable of being renewed
A renewable membership.
Renewable subscriptions.


Capable of being sustained.


Relating to or being a commodity or resource, such as solar energy or firewood, that is inexhaustible or replaceable by new growth.


Capable of being continued with minimal long-term effect on the environment
Sustainable agriculture.


Able to be renewed; capable of renewal.


Able to be sustained.


(of a resource) Sustainable; able to be regrown or renewed; having an ongoing or continuous source of supply; not finite.
Solar and wind power are renewable, but coal is not.


Able to be produced or sustained for an indefinite period without damaging the environment, or without depleting a resource; renewable.
Sustainable economy


A thing that is renewable; especially, a renewable source of energy.


A renewable energy source.


A renewable resource.


Capable of being sustained or maintained; as, the action is not sustainable.


Capable of being renewed; as, a lease renewable at pleasure.


Capable of being sustained


That can be renewed or extended;
A renewable lease
Renewable subscriptions


Capable of being renewed; replaceable;
Renewable energy such as solar energy is theoretically inexhaustible


Is all renewable energy sustainable?

Not always. Renewable energy must also be used and produced sustainably, considering environmental and social impacts.

What does "renewable" mean?

Renewable refers to resources or energy that can be replenished naturally over time.

What is an example of a renewable resource?

Solar energy is an example of a renewable resource.

What does "sustainable" mean?

Sustainable pertains to practices or methods that don't deplete resources or harm the environment, ensuring long-term balance.

Can sustainable development include technological advancement?

Yes, technological advancements can be part of sustainable development if they improve efficiency and reduce environmental harm.

Can renewable resources ever be unsustainable?

Yes, if used irresponsibly or causing environmental harm, renewable resources can be unsustainable.

Why is sustainability important?

It's vital for protecting the environment, conserving resources, and ensuring social and economic stability.

Are all renewable resources naturally occurring?

Yes, renewable resources are typically naturally occurring, like sunlight, wind, or water flow.

Is recycling a form of sustainability?

Yes, recycling is a sustainable practice as it conserves resources and reduces waste.

Can a product be renewable but not sustainable?

Yes, if the production or disposal of the product causes significant environmental harm.

Can sustainable practices apply to businesses?

Yes, businesses can adopt sustainable practices in operations, production, and supply chain management.

Is solar power always sustainable?

While solar power is renewable, its sustainability depends on factors like production processes and waste management.

Does sustainable mean the same as eco-friendly?

Not exactly. Eco-friendly usually refers to not harming the environment, while sustainable involves a broader consideration of long-term impacts.

Are all forms of renewable energy clean?

Most are clean in terms of emissions, but their sustainability also depends on factors like land use and resource management.

Is sustainability only about the environment?

No, it also involves social and economic dimensions, like fair labor practices and economic viability.

How can individuals contribute to sustainability?

Through actions like reducing waste, conserving energy, and supporting sustainable products and practices.

Can non-renewable resources be used sustainably?

In some cases, yes. Using them efficiently and minimizing environmental impact can be part of a sustainable approach.

Is hydroelectric power both renewable and sustainable?

It's renewable, but its sustainability depends on environmental impacts, such as effects on aquatic ecosystems.

What is a key goal of sustainability?

A key goal is to meet current needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.

Can renewable resources run out?

In theory, no. But if managed poorly, the capacity to use them sustainably can diminish.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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