Monday, June 09, 2008

Maybe you've been greenwashed too

I learned a new word yesterday that I just love: greenwashing. A word to describe the current trendiness of marketing every product as being natural, eco-friendly, recyclable, biodegradable, organic or some other word-of-the-week hype associated with the thing's carbon footprint.

I've been telling my friends and family that I hate the green movement. Not that I have anything against the planet, and not that I don't totally get behind sustainable living, but if I hear one more TV or radio commercial for an "eco-friendly" product, I will barf. I put "eco-friendly" in quotes because many, many of these allegedly friendly products are anything but. My most favorite example is the hybrid SUV, the one that has worse gas mileage than a regular non-hybrid vehicle.

The latest thing is those damn shopping bags. They're everywhere. Reusable shopping bags emblazoned with some sort of cutesy expression about saving the planet. Reusable is good. Reusable I can get on board with. The problem that I have is that we are all being encouraged to go out and buy more stuff. We can't save the planet by buying stuff. Not even tiny hybrid cars. Sometimes it is actually more eco-conscious to continue to drive your old car, than to buy a new hybrid one. You have to consider where your old car would go and how much energy it took to manufacture the new car.
The mantra is this: reduce, reuse, recycle. The very first word is the most important. Reduce. Stop buying. Reuse what you can, that's almost as important as Reduce. Recycle is a distant third, or let's just say Last Place. Recycling takes so much time and energy that it should be viewed as the method of last resort. Yet so many products claim to be eco-friendly because they are recyclable. If that's their sole claim to carbon footprint-fame, then it's not a reason to buy the product.

Yet all around me I see people who have bought into the marketing and think that because they toss their paper and plastic into the recycle bin, that they are doing the right thing and have earned their green star for the day.
The author of the book 50 Simple Things You Can Do To Save The Earth has just published a sequel for the 21st century. In case you don't recall, the original book was published in 1989, and included 50 truly simple tips about the 3 Rs as well as wildlife preservation. They were just small things you could do around the house, along the lines of "don't leave the water running when you brush your teeth" and stuff you've heard a zillion times in the last 10 years. In a recent interview promoting the new book, the author John Javna was asked why he decided to re-write the 50 Simple Things, which now basically lists 50 environmental groups that promote large scale change. His answer was that he felt the original book was misleading and no longer relevant. Turning the water off when you brush your teeth is not going to save the earth, and it is irresponsible to imply that it is. It is inappropriate to imply that individuals have the power to save the earth (I'm still paraphrasing Mr Javna). If everyone did the original 50 simple things, we would still have oil spills and disappearing coral reefs and contaminants in our water supply.
Individuals can not prevent all of those things.
It must now be a group effort, headed up by nonprofits and (gasp) corporations.
Putting your plastic water bottle in the recycle bin is not green. If you think it is, then you've been greenwashed.


green thinking said...

If you haven’t done it already, its really time to get some reusable shopping bags to cut down on our plastic waste. You can read Kate’s post on canvas tote bags where she talks about some fabulous, fashionable bag options. Or try out Baggu — they come in 19 different colors at $8 for one, $22 for three, or $38 for six.

Heather said...

Green thinking requires much, much more than reusing a shopping bag.


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