I'm translating a sentence to English, and want to use the phrase:

All material is produced sustainably.

But my spell-check doesn't like the word sustainably, so I looked it up, and have found mixed results as to whether this is the best word to use.

Dictionary.com doesn't list any adverb form of sustainable. Miriam-Webster does have an entry for sustainably.

Should I use this word, or is there a better, more accepted way to convey the same meaning?

  • 6
    Use the word- anybody who reads it will understand what you are mean and it's in a dictionary. Or you can choose to reword- All material is produced is a sustainable manner. It's really up to you.
    – Jim
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 5:25

4 Answers 4


The Oxford English Dictionary says "sustainably" is fine:

Pronunciation: Brit. /səˈsteɪnəbl/ , U.S. /səˈsteɪnəb(ə)l/ Etymology: < sustain v. + -able suffix. Compare earlier sustenable adj. and French forms cited at that entry.


suˈstainably adv.

1843 New Mirror (N.-Y.) 5 Aug. 288/2 Yet of all these and sundry other constructions is the colonel's ‘Oh’ sustainably susceptible. 1919 Lumber 1 Sept. 14/2 The cost of production..must be..in point of automatic processes sustainably profitable. 1990 Pract. Woodworking Mar. 87/1 (advt.) Main agents for the Ecological Trading Company supplying tropical hardwoods from sustainably managed sources. 2005 C. Tudge Secret Life Trees xiv. 394 Whereas in the past foresters all too often just took what they wanted (and clear-felled vast areas of North America, for instance, often with gratuitous profligacy) the trend now is to log selectively and sustainably.


I'm a bit confused by your assertion, that you have found "mixed results as to whether this is actually a word."

If the word can be found in a reputable dictionary, then it's a word. The omission of a word from one dictionary does not make it "not a word" – the omission of a word from ALL dictionaries makes it "not a word" (even then, there are possible grey areas, particularly as the language evolves). Have you ever seen an unabridged dictionary in print?

Moreover, spell-checkers are NOT reliable; spell-checkers flag valid words often (and are notorious for doing so with adverbial forms).

So, yes, sustainably is a word – M-W confirms that, as does COED. It's time to add that word to your spell-checker's vocabulary! My advice is, grab your big-boy keyboard, and don't be so intimidated by those red squiggly lines. ☺ Sometimes you're right, and the software is ignorant.

  • Some good points. I suppose my question was more along the lines of "Is there a better/more accepted way to say this?" than "is this a word, in the strictest sense?"
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 15:25
  • Very good point about spell checking and similarly purposed algorithms. As anecdotal evidence of how frustrating it can get, my phone needed custom entry for the word autocorrect so that I could complain about autocorrect screwing with a previous message.
    – user19589
    Commented Jun 17, 2012 at 5:24

There are many ways to say the same thing, but I don't see a problem with using sustainably, nor can I think of an equally concise option. If it's good enough for the NY Times and Lindt, I think you should be fine.

Sometimes dictionaries are a little slower to add words and morphologies to a language than speakers are; I wouldn't let dictionary.com's results throw you.

  • Downvoter, I'd appreciate some comments on how my answer could be improved, thanks.
    – Cameron
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 17:24

Google Ngram suggests sustainably and its antonym unsustainably started their current popularity in the early 1980s.

There is an example from 1798 in a Virginia court report though it is not clear to me whether it is an adjective or adverb.

In either caſe if he loſt the income by the forgery his right of action was equally ſuſtainably.

  • 2
    That looks like a misprint for sustainable.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 8:34
  • @Andrew: Possibly. Hence my comment "it is not clear to me whether it is an adjective or adverb".
    – Henry
    Commented Jun 15, 2012 at 14:54

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