I care a lot about the environment—I have the eco-friendly bamboo flatware to prove it—but I don’t want to be part of the “green movement.”
I’m not convinced that the movement can, in its present incarnation, save consumers a whole lot of money, or that it can even revolutionize the way we interact with our environment. The key is to reduce consumption, not to buy more stuff just because it's supposedly green.
As the former editor of an environmental news outlet, a lot of articles crossed my desk about biking around town, creating awesome compost bins, and only eating fish that are farmed sustainably. While I think that we should all bike to work and take canvas bags to the supermarket, the truth of the matter is that most people don’t.
A number of months ago, I went to a special event at a green pop-up shop in Manhattan. We congregated to pay homage to the importance of environmental discourse, so we ate lots of Pop Chips (threw out the bags) and brought home canvas goodie bags (filled with granola bars, tea, and other “green” objects in separate wrapping, plus a bunch of flyers and pamphlets). Additionally, the pop-up shop only existed for about a week, so we specifically didn’t talk about the energy it took to set up a shop for only a few days, publicize it, and then break it down again. It was publicity, after all. We were spreading environmental awareness, so we were going to change the world by talking about the environment while we sipped organic vodka.
Don’t get me wrong, the event was fun. It’s important to spread environmental awareness through projects like those and through events like Earth Day. But, for real environmental change to happen, we need to take the next step BEYOND talking.
It’s trendy to sport a stylish water bottle and talk about how you’d only eat organic, and both of those things are great. Thing is, it’s really easy to feel good about ourselves for small acts without seeing the bigger picture.
If you’re in the market for a car, you’d help the environment by buying a hybrid. But, does it make sense to ditch your two-year-old Chevy specifically to get a Prius? Remember that manufacturing cars requires energy, too. Does it make sense to buy lots of “I’m Not A Plastic Bag” canvas clutches, when you wouldn’t have bought anything at all otherwise? (After all, those bags are too cute to actually take to the grocery store.)
We live in a consumerist society, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. But, consider: Green waste is still waste. You’re not doing the environment—or your wallet—a service by buying your fifth trendy water bottle, or purchasing lots of environmentally-produced chocolate shipped up from Colombia.
Before getting caught in the green hype, THINK. Do you need the thing you’re about to buy? Are you buying green because you genuinely think that this purchase will help the environment? Or is it because you want the cachet? It’s okay to jump on the green bandwagon every now and then—just don’t follow it off a bridge.