By Maggie Layden
Green consumerism offers people the opportunity to save the planet by buying more environmentally-friendly things, but this approach is less environmentally-friendly than actually buying fewer things and living more modestly. The argument for green consumerism seems to be that an incremental approach to consumption is “good enough for now,” that if we buy just as much as before, but “buy green,” we will have done our part.
For most of us, the vast array of eco-options on the shelves of our favorite stores is a sign of progress. If the sheer number of environmentally friendly products on the market is any indication, consumers seem pretty eager to do their part for a more sustainable future. Whether the manufacturers are acting out of genuine environmental interest or simply a financial interest in meeting consumer demand is beside the point, right? We’re reducing our carbon footprint, recycling at growing rates, and supporting local farmers.
The problem with green consumerism is that it encourages consumers to go out and buy, buy, buy, and offers “guilt-free” feelings about this unsustainable action. But “green” products still use resources.
Consumerism, and establishing your identity by having to buy the latest “in” thing, is simply bad for the environment. What we buy is manufactured from resources we take from the earth, one way or another. We live on a finite planet and cannot continue to increase what we take and use from it. Even recycled products cause harm. Manufacturing requires energy. Shipping and transportation requires fuel. Green consumerism offers consumers a false sense that they are helping the earth.
Many consumers have embraced real ways of living green, but some have instead embraced green consumerism, which does not provide a solution to the problems we currently face. Critics question the notion that we can avert climate change by buying so-called earth-friendly products, from clothing and cars to homes and vacations, when the cumulative effect of our consumption remains enormous and hazardous.
Paul Hawken, an author and longtime environmental activist, said the current boom in “green” products offers a false promise. “Green consumerism is an oxymoronic phrase,” he said. Hawken blames the media and traditional marketing techniques for turning environmentalism into a mainstream trend that distracts the general population from serious issues. He, and other critics, say the genuine solution is to significantly reduce our consumption of goods and resources. It’s not enough to build a vacation home of recycled lumber; the real way to reduce one’s carbon footprint is to only own one home. “Really going green means having less,” Hawken said.
Bringing consciousness of our effects on nature’s systems into the decision-making of the average consumer is a necessity for all people on earth. It is important that people understand that we cannot buy our way out of the problems we have created. We must make changes to our lifestyles and take new approaches that protect this earth and its natural resources for future generations.
Imagine if all consumers switched to hybrids, non-polluting detergents, non-toxic cleaning supplies, reduced the chemical loads on their lawns and gardens, increased the amount of organic foods they ate, pressured officials to increase the amount of available alternative energy, went solar, reused, recycled, and reduced the amount of stuff they buy. Small actions, when taken by a large group, can yield great change.
We must continue to work together in reducing overall consumption to protect the environment on which modern economies and lives depend. The task presented to consumers is this: first and foremost reduce your consumption, then buy “green,” but only buy as much as you need to live.