Why Green Products Matter
Posted on July 16, 2010 by derek
I’ve had the time to think lately, and this is what has materialised thus far . I’ve filed this piece under “work in progress”, so don’t mind if it ends up incomplete.
After spending the last 2 weeks doing quite a fair bit of personal reading, I’ve come to some observations about the green movement.
To the more hard headed green types among us, it’s a very macro focused imperitive that talks about the ways we harness and use resources (like energy) and educating people about the ills of the planet and how things like climate change, biodiversity loss, the impending oil crunch and food security will affect our lives, and our children’s lives.
The good ideas that come up of these debates can be summed up (roughly) in something like this: That we need to fundamentally change the systems that our societies function in, and very quickly, on a massive scale. (I do recognise that there’s a lot more to what’s going on, and I may have missed something out for the sake of being brief)
That’s fine and very good, but here’s the part that I’m still coming to terms with: When the conversation topic arrives at consumerism, consumption and consumers, I often find myself on the disagreeing end, because green people tend to take a, in my opinion, misguided hack at things like marketing and advertising, needless fashion cycles, large corporations that sell large volumes of products, and people buying and not needing iphones (true story).
So let’s break this down into the fundamental premise that everyone almost immediately recognises: The act of consuming a product or service leads to emissions and resource use, hence, we as individuals should not consume above a level that compromises the consumption of future generations.
OK. That’s logical enough, but here’s the problem, it is almost impossible to dictate an upper limit of consumption for people, because people are heterogeneous, especially in terms of their wants and needs.
In my personal opinion, a person needs very very little. So am I supposed to be telling everyone in the developed world to not eat meat, scrap the car that they spent years saving up for, stop going on (non-eco) holidays, never buy food that is not local, never drink bottled beverages even if there’s no other choice, and of course, very importantly to some, not use an iphone?
I think you’d agree that I’d not be the most popular person if I went out and did just that. To those taking one for the team by doing this, much respect to you.
Here’s the detach that I detect: There is a stark difference between gross over-consumption (everyone in the world driving an SUV) and “non-consumption” (riding a bike 10km everyday to work). We tend to treat “good” and “bad” in these extremes, but we’re still figuring out what “normal consumption” (as in: ecologically and sustainably permissible) should be.
We know that driving an SUV, for example is bad, hence it is discouraged. But how are you going to convince everyone to only transport themselves by pedal power? Let’s be practical about this: That ain’t going to happen. Sure, we could enforce that public transport be the only way, but what of those who may need to drive like my friend in the construction industry, who is constantly on the road and on-site?
And this is where “green” products and the private sector in general, fit in. If we can arrive at an extreme situation where all the products in the world were eco-friendly and sustainable (in creation, use and dispose), more durable (in terms of fashion as well), and carbon neutral, wouldn’t the world be a better place?
Better because we have to worry a lot less about saving the planet, but also, because people can enjoy a comfortable (and I don’t mean “lavish”) standard of living, at the same time. A win-win for everyone: Environmentalists, businesses, governments and everyday people will rejoice, then look for the next big thing to wrestle over.
Now even if you can’t accept that vision because you don’t think that will happen eventually, consider this: Even if we do manage to sort the big things out (Clean and renewable energy for all, non-petrol fuels, sustainable urban infrastructure, waste management systems that somehow manage 100% recycling rates), but continue to produce and consume the same toxic junk that we’re currently used to, aren’t we taking 2 steps forward and 1 back?
The other thing that I keep coming across is this statement: Green has to become mainstream.
At this point, I’d like to ask all the environmental people that are overly anti-consumerist this: How do you get something to be mainstream if it’s not marketable or marketed? I liken the scenario to the point in time when any sub-cultural movement starts “selling out”, it’s founding members never seem happy about it, and come to reject a lot of things about the movement as in gains popularity and becomes more marketed.
Don’t mind my cultural interjection, but here’s what I think: This is where businesses can help very well, simply because they have had a long and perhaps, not so illustrious history of making people buy stuff. So why not using those proven competencies to sell green lifestyles and create innovative green products instead?
I may have touched upon quite a few areas in this piece and may not have offered a lot of answers, and most of this may be just wishful thinking. Let me however, end off with this:
I am not at all saying that over-consumption should be encouraged, and I do recognise that we should not be giving people excuses to purchase unnecessarily. At the same time however, we ought to recognise that normal lifestyle consumption products and necessities will continue to be bought.
This post aims at addressing that part of “consumerism”.
More on this in the future.