Environmental consciousness seems to be gaining momentum with increasing numbers of "eco-friendly" products out there from organic bath towels to hybrid cars. But are we really being more environmentally conscious when we buy these products? Are we actually thinking twice about the ecological consequences, or are we just switching from "brand x" to "brand organic"? A recent Washington Post article, Greed in the Name of Green, critiques the idea of the "new green consumer" and challenges the notion that we can buy our way into environmental sanctification.
Paul Hawken, a well known environmentalist and author, comments that we may actually have to alter lifestyles and perhaps buy less, rather than simply buying green. I appreciate Hawken's sentiment, as our culture is constantly shouting at us through advertisements in all sorts of mediums to buy more. Buy more to make yourself feel good. Buy more if you are feeling good. Buy more if you are unsure of how you are feeling but because it's cool and everyone is doing it. The same strategy is being used on the eco-friendly consumer.
True environmental consciousness will challenge the way we respond to our culture of consumerism and create changes in lifestyles. I do think that you can be an environmentally conscious consumer. However, this will most likely mean being less of a consumer to begin with, and when you do have to put on your consumer hat, be critical and read between the lines of "brand organic" (as well as everyone else's) advertisements.
Reduce, Reuse, then Recycle. And if you still need something new, do your research before you hit the stores and know what all those "green labels" are/are not actually telling you.
Kim Szeto is a former Sojourners intern now working for the Community Food Security Coalition.