Posts Tagged ‘green living’

Or so Honda would have you believe.  Their newest Lexus campaign hitchhikes upon positive environmental developments in the world and links them to the latest Lexus hybrids.

An ad for the campaign — built around the slogan ‘Good things are happening today’ — in this month’s Wired features four newspaper clippings.  Two herald advances in environmental science, another trumpets a deal to preserve a part of the Amazon basin and the last is one of the many recent reports documenting the rise in popularity of guerilla gardening.  ‘The same spirit that drives these,’ says the ad of the news reports, ‘drives these,’ meaning the new autos, one of which has a base retail price of $105,000.

Nice try.  And, sure, hybrids are better than non-hybrids.  But it’s a mighty jump from greening blighted urban landscapes at the cost of a pack of seeds to gathering, shipping and processing the enormous volume of materials that go into even the greenest of cars.

It reminds us, as we’ve said before, that the greenest form of consumption is to avoid consuming wherever possible.

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Every week some 32 million copies of Parade Magazine — the popular (and populist) insert to many US Sunday newspapers — get printed. So it’s hardly a paragon of environmental sustainability. As wikipedia notes, one of its signature features is also “a significant amount of advertising for consumer products.”

So we say ‘God Bless’ to Parade for this week running an article that points out a truth rarely acknowledged in the commercial press: that truly green activities are often more about not spending than buying something new.

In describing some ‘better ways to go green,’ author Christie Matheson reminds us that while you might feel good about redecorating your home with eco-friendly furniture, it would be better to reupholster and refurbish what you already have. Better to drive less than buy a new Prius. Better to drink tap water than water from plastic bottles that you assiduously recycle.

None are earth-shatteringly original ideas. But thanks to their emphasis on restraining consumption as opposed to enabling more of it, they’re ideas that get aired all too rarely in commercially-supported media — including a great many outlets designed specifically to appeal to people who see themselves as environmentally aware.

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Green shopping is quite the fashion these days. No newspaper ‘home’ section goes a week, it seems, without an article on ‘green living.’ Magazine publishers are launching ever more eco-consumer titles, nourished by advertising budgets devoted to ever-growing lines of ‘eco-friendly’ products.

Much less often, though — in fact almost never — does consumption itself get questioned in the mainstream press. Which is why were delighted to see Monica Hesse’s article ‘Greed in the Name of Green’ in the Washington Post this week.

With tongue firmly in cheek, Hesse has this to say in reviewing the trend towards  ‘green’ shopping:

“And let us never consider the other organic option — not buying — because the new green consumer wants to consume, to be more celadon than emerald, in the right color family but muted, without all the hand-me-down baby clothes and out-of-date carpet.”

To do anything else, she points out, would be to fly in the face of a culture built on consumption. And yet, as she has Paul Hawken (as in the high-end consumer home and garden retailer Smith and Hawken) explain:

Really going green, Hawken says, “means having less. It does mean less. Everyone is saying, ‘You don’t have to change your lifestyle.’ Well, yes, actually, you do.“”

While it might be unrealistic to expect media dependent on advertisements to vocally advocate against unnecessary consumption,  our voracious appetite for stuff — and its absolute centrality to the Western way of life — is perhaps the biggest obstacle facing anyone hoping to reduce our impact on the environment.

We’ve built our perceived wealth on the ‘virtuous cycle’ of product invention, manufacture, consumption and disposal followed by further consumption.  We see breaking, or even decreasing the size of that cycle, as enormously threatening to our entire economic system — because, of course, it is.

But if that cycle is unsustainable, which large elements of it (at the very least) genuinely seem to be — then simply carrying on as before doesn’t seem an especially smart move.

Consumer capitalism, Barbara Ehrenreich reminds us this week, now binds the entire world. If the American consumer stops consuming — and that amounts to the only really productive thing Americans do these days, Ehrenreich suggests — then the entire world will be economically devastated.

Ehrenreich’s concern seems to be less a critique of consumer culture than a fear that Americans have outsourced themselves out of any other productive role.  If we fail as shoppers, we’ll be forced to become ‘shoplifters,’ she suggests.

That presumes, however, that we should — and can — only define ourselves as consumers.  And it offers us the false choice of either remaining a consumer culture (only producing more stuff ourselves) and becoming lawless thieves.

What if we strove to see ourselves as something else, though — as citizens, as caregivers, as guardians of a fragile Earth, as people who don’t need to buy to find worth in our lives, perhaps?

Sure, in this scenario, we might not be as ‘wealthy’ or have as many shopping choices or cool stuff as we have now.  But it might be a way to secure for ourselves — and our planet — an better fate.  And since owning more stuff seems rarely seems to corleate to psychological well-being, it might make us happier to boot.

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