It's the Environment, Stupid.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Can one be a consumer and an environmentalist?

I recycle – paper, plastic, glass, aluminum. I buy organic vegetables, cage free eggs and fair trade coffee. I read left behind newspapers in cafés and get my java to stay if there’s an available seat. I print double sided at my school’s computer lab. I even stopped to read a pesticide notice on a park fence the other day and thought, “It’s nice that they’re notifying the public, but gosh, isn’t there some integrated pest management they can use here instead?”

I also recently bought toxic bathroom cleaner because it promised to get rid of mold and mildew (and believe me I really needed to get rid of some serious mold and mildew). I bought laundry soap at the laundry mat because I ran out, and it was cold outside and I didn’t want to walk four blocks to the "natural" store, which probably wasn’t open yet anyway. I opted for the bright colored, EXTRA sticky, post-it notes instead of the regular sticky, boring, pastel-colored, post-consumer, recycled ones. I bought a standard light bulb instead of an energy efficient one because I only had two dollars in cash on me, and had forgotten to get a new bulb two days in a row and didn’t want to spend another evening in a dark, dark room. Do I feel guilty about this? Yes. Even as I plunk down the cash at the register, I think to myself, “I shouldn’t be buying this toxic, toxic (or insert the most un-eco adjective of your choice) stuff.” I know it’s bad, but I do it anyway.

Does this make me a horrible person? I’d like to think not – that’d make me, along with millions of other people, horrible, horrible people. Does it contribute to our global environmental problems? Of course. What can we do about it? That’s the million dollar question (okay, probably 500 trillion dollar question, but who’s counting?)

I’m about as eco-aware as they come, but I’m not nearly as eco-friendly a consumer as I should be. So at what point does this guilt turn into consumer behavior changes? Is it a matter of eco-friendly products being accessible and available? Is it a matter of price? Branding? Advertising? Selection? Design?

I don’t believe consuming less is the answer, but I think we can design ourselves out of many problems by creating minimal, bio-degradable packaging or using less toxic/less harmful materials (a-la Cradle to Cradle). I think we’re slowly creating a market place where green products can sit along side their non-green counterparts, and eventually even replace them altogether.

I applaud those who are eco-friendly all the time (or who consistently choose the less bad alternative) and I strive to be like them, I really do. But in reality (at least mine, for now) circumstance trumps conscience.

This blog posting inspired in part by the philosophy of The Lazy Environmentalist and a recent Eco Chick posting.

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