I have been exposed to so much green-washing lately that I have developed a strong skepticism about the green version of the behaviors we have in this still not sustainable society. One of such behaviors is indulgence in green shopping.
Just replacing brown products with green ones does not resolve the overwhelming environmental crisis created by consumerism and waste. Such approach can actually perpetuate the problem preventing people from identifying the root cause which is actually consumption itself.
We need to minimize our consumption altogether. Consumption-based environmental damage and footprint are not eliminated by just buying green. They are at best reduced and at worst, increased. We need to stop making shopping attractive to people, and buying green can be and in fact, it has become a way to redeem the responsibility of consumption.
Green products have the potential to perpetuate the problem leading us to a new type of consumerism. Just buying the typical green product that is recyclable and produces less pollution or even the fair trade consumable which requires less people to sacrifice their working conditions or job insurance, does not guarantee the solution. To put it in perspective let’s just consider that for every bin of trash we put out, factories generate 70 bins of waste producing the stuff we trash.
If you think about it, the psychology behind green products poses a risk no different than how confession can prevent people from taking responsibility for their actions thus allowing them to misbehave again. This is neither acceptable nor sustainable. That is why I cannot accept marketing and sales of green products in the same way that we use traditional products, and the reason why I have a natural reaction to green sales people and green consumption, despite those with honest good intentions.
I do however understand it would be unrealistic for anyone in this day and age to just stop consuming. Only the extremely poor people who cannot even feed themselves in this planet could actually be redeemed from consumption. That is not sustainable either.
So are we stuck with consumption? Well, today consumption is unavoidable if want to nourish ourselves and live individually and as a society. And life must be protected. Protecting life is in my opinion the ultimate essence of sustainability.
So what is the solution to such dilemma? Instead of just appealing to people with green products, let’s show them the whole story or the big picture and explain that green products are a bandage, not the silver bullet. They are are just one stage of the solution, not the complete permanent solution.
We cannot stay in the “less bad” status, as Will McDonough would argue. We need to move as quickly as possible beyond “less bad” and figure out how to stop being bad altogether. Accordingly when we advertise or promote green products, we need to educate society that ‘yes’ we must buy green instead of brown. We must however not forget green consumption is an interim measure no different than wearing cast after breaking your arm. If we keep the temporary fix long enough, it may turn the problem worse. Imagine your previously broken arm with the cast still on after 4 years!
We must communicate the need to be responsible consumers and as such how we must think outside of the consumption box. When we do so, magic will happen. We will be able to find new ways of obtaining the goods to nourish ourselves and live while reducing the environmental footprint permanently and far more than if we just replaced brown with green products. I am not just talking about new green closed-loop product designs and processes such as cradle-to-cradle but much more simply, learning to enjoy life with less stuff.