Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Greenwashed Consumer

In the wake of the world-wide climate change crisis and the relatively popular resurgence of eco-consciousness, consumer dollars are being taken advantage of once again. Even while living on less or on a pattern of down-shifting, consumer choices are made sometimes inevitably. Just as much careful thought as reading ingredients for an allergy must be put into analysing what products we buy and what companies we support. In other words we have to start deeply caring about eachother and the environment in a crucial and fundamental sense just as we would look out for the best interests of ourselves. The latter point is a skill that many people in today's world have not shown difficulty in exhibiting.

Greenwashing is the act of advertising, marketing and packaging a product with the guise that with purchasing it not only are you making the ecologically responsible choice but in fact saving the environment more than if you had not boughten it. One example can be heard on a recent Mercedes/Benz commercial which literally exclaims: "you can't afford not to have one!" I examined a specific example of this in an old post called "Fur Is Bullshit" which critiqued the greenwashing techniques employed by the Fur Council of Canada in their latest controversial ads. This is exemplified by the slogan "Fur Is Green" (which of course, its not). Greenwashing may be said to have a close linkage with the term "eco-chic" and its rampant manifestations.

It is often difficult to tell the difference between products that harm the environment on a lower scale of impact than others. One hint is that if a company is large and if it sells other "non-eco" products then they are likely to greenwash (think Clorox's line of "green works" household cleaning products). I think it's important to think "Is this necessary?" before making a purchase of any kind. Coupled with public activism, protest and collective forms of making a difference, it must begin and include an individual level of consciousness. I am talking about daily habits on the smallest level to the point of avoiding that afternoon coffee if you've forgotten a reusable mug. We are all on different levels of environmental consciousness and at varying stages of acting on that awareness. Some may be coming to the realization that it is possible to live without the newest brand and fragrance of deoderant....or without deoderant at all (at least the kind that is packaged and bought in a store).

There was a recent post by George Monbiot which I feel is a poignant and explanatory deconstruction of this recent "eco-everything" phenomenon, which since it is a part of capitalist society, has been used to manipulate people into spending their dollars in the Marketplace. Furthermore, propogating the status quo's definition of progress.

"[C]onsumerism is a totalitarian system: it permeates every aspect of our lives. Even our dissent from the system is packaged up and sold to us in the form of anti-consumption consumption, like the “I’m not a plastic bag” which was supposed to replace disposable carriers but was mostly used once or twice before it fell out of fashion, or lucrative new books on how to live without money.

Orwell and Huxley proposed different totalitarianisms: one sustained by fear, the other partly by greed. Huxley’s nightmare has come closer to realisation. In the nurseries of the Brave New World, “the voices were adapting future demand to future industrial supply. ‘I do love flying,’ they whispered, ‘I do love flying, I do love having new clothes … old clothes are beastly …We always throw away old clothes. Ending is better than mending, ending is better than mending’”(7). "

The easy way to cope with this reality is to be cynical. It often seems like the "blazes of glory" descent of humanity (i.e. Brando actively degenerating in the chaos of Apocalypse Now!) is held in favour over repair, recycling and regenerating the ecosystem. Natural disasters and other environmental effects are not only impacting people significantly around the world but are causing millions of deaths (by the 100,000's in Haiti alone!). Cynicism and accepting the current direction of our fate will not only lead to more deaths and violations of human rights but also to ecological catasptophe. We must adopt a hyper-awareness when it comes to our lifestyles on a public and private level. Our ecological footprint includes our consumer choices. At the very least do not let yourself fall into the greenwash trap - support that it is "always in" to live green instead of look it.

A few texts I recommend that support the related "myth of progress" include:

A Short History of Progress - Ronald Wright

Ishmael - Daniel Quinn

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