It is not surprising that “green” was at the top of the latest Lake Superior University List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness. The word is everywhere and “going green” has become a new trendy fad rather than the socially responsible lifestyle change that it should be. Green products and policies are often distracters from grievous environmental waste, and it is time that the average consumer sees through the hype in favor of true eco-friendliness.
Of course going green is a great thing, but the term itself has become little more than a marketing ploy, and consumers must be able to recognize this in order to better understand how to beat the illusion and be really, truly, authentically green.
As “green” has become a popular, over-used buzzword, it lost its ability to be a true social choice. It became something added to packaging so that people can feel good about themselves and their eco-friendly purchases. And let me emphasize that the purchases are eco-friendly, don’t think that a “green” product isn’t green! But what should be realized is that a company advertising a green product is not a green company, and even though they use advertising, store displays, and other marketing to emphasize their good, green qualities, most of what lines the shelf is not truly eco-friendly. Most companies have few flagship green items, but that doesn’t mean consumers can totally trust those companies; eco-conscious consumers need to always actively seek green alternatives. Remember in the late 90s and even early into the new millennium when a consumer had to do detective work to find green products? Now some products are advertised as green, making this task easier. But consumers must remember that just because other products don’t have “green” on the label doesn’t mean that a green version doesn’t exist! Eco-detective work is still vital, and a green consumer still needs to make active choices.
It is definitely a good thing that people can go most stores and find many new green products readily available, but never assume that this makes the company holistic inventory environmentally responsible. A great example of this comes from the recent compact fluorescent light (CFL) craze. These kinds of light bulbs are more efficient and save energy; some good statistics about these energy-efficient bulbs can be found at eartheasy.com. CFL bulbs are a great thing for our planet. However, while this product is available at most retailers, if a customer walks a few aisles down to the electronics department of the big-box store carrying those light bulbs, he or she will come across wall after wall of flat screen TVs. Since the store carries eco-friendly products like CFLs, the TVs are probably all okay too, right? Add this to the fact that directly across from the TVs is a display of Energy Star computers and printers, complete with post-consumer paper and a place to drop off spent ink-cartridges for recycling, and the customer is feeling good about that new flat screen. Also, let’s not forget that we’ve all seen dozens of news stories about “going green” and TVs were hardly ever mentioned (though you can be sure that CFLs were featured). Marketing firms have championed certain green products, and environmentalists can be happy for this. But the problem is that they’ve ignored mentioning environmental concerns when it comes to other products that are horrible for our planet.
A BBC News article entitled Do Flat-Screen TVs Eat More Energy? indicates that plasmas are much less efficient than older cathode-ray screen models. Depending on the size of the TV, the negative impact of the plasma screen may be completely obliterating the amount of good done by switching to CFLs! This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t even bother going green with CFLs, post-consumer paper, or other measures, but the example serves as a wake-up call to the fact that these small measures don’t address the real problem with environmental degradation: rampant consumer consumption. While even the smallest bit helps and every effort to go-green makes a difference, we have to make sure that we not only make adjustments in our current lifestyle but that we actively monitor our future lifestyle choices. We need to remember that advertisers for products only talk about “green” qualities when it is favorable for the product in question; it is up to us, as consumers, to make sure we do background research on products not discussed in the current green buzz. We can’t assume that changing old habits will fix everything; we need to watch out for new habits too!
Plasma TVs are the “in” thing right now; they are a status symbol. But we need to realize that always getting the next new product is not healthy for our planet. To be truly green, people need to continue making small changes in their daily lives, but these changes must also be coupled with an overall change in attitude toward purchasing. Firstly, products must be researched in advance. Secondly, products must not be bought on a whim. We who live in capitalist countries are always trying to get more “stuff.” We want the newest products and the newest gadgets, but this is a truly wasteful practice when our old gadgets still work just fine and are more eco-friendly than the newer, power-hungry electronic gadgets! Why use more natural resources to make new products that we don’t need? Of course there are certain gadgets that get more eco-friendly with each model; so a consumer must do good research in advance. Changing from a life of consumption to one of conservation is an important step toward actively being green. Purchasing what we need instead of what we want moves us toward true conservation, more so than the sort of green gestures that appear on a box of packaging designed to boost consumer confidence in a specific brand’s eco-friendliness. I implore readers of this article to be truly green; do it for our planet, not the fad.
Lake Superior State University, Lake Superior State University 2009 List of Banished Words, LSSU.
Earth Easy, Energy Efficient Lighting, EarthEasy.
Sean Coughlan, Do Flat-Screen TVs Eat More Energy? BBC News.