Saturday, June 19, 2010

When "green" isn't eco-friendly at all

I was reading a story about eco-friendly finishes for new homes when I was suddenly struck by the ridiculousness of it all. How is gold-gilded bamboo flooring still eco-friendly? What’s environmentally conscious about spending $125 for a single roll of wall paper made from old newspapers? (Really. I’m not kidding.)

There’s a huge difference between going green and, well, going “green.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not so much crunchy as I am crispy when it comes to healthy, eco-friendly living. But even to my not-at-all-trained green sensibilities, isn’t it better to go green by using as few resources as possible, rather than by spending bundles for something uber-processed that claims to be eco-friendly? If you’re spending $42 on a single tank top, you’re not being green, even if it’s made out of organic cotton or sustainable bamboo. It’s like investing in special, BPA-free bottles and then using them to feed your baby Coke.

I brought the question — OK, vented the idea — to my readers at The 36-Hour Day and to my friends on Facebook, and this is what some of them said:

"Going green is usually cheaper than not, because you’re using less energy (and your utility bills go down), driving less (and your gas bills go down), re-using things (so you spend less buying retail)… More money than brains, for sure!"

"Keep going green and pretty soon your green is all gone."

"If I’m not mistaken, doesn’t the production of all of these “green” products have an impact on the environment too? They are most likely made in factories. And isn’t everything you buy still going to end up in a landfill eventually? Manufacturers are going to continue to make things that aren’t environmentally friendly as long as people are buying them, and I don’t see an end to that anytime soon."

"I’m convinced that the money to sense ratio is significantly skewed with a lot of this."

"I can’t help but think that the majority of people who do “overtly green” spending are doing it for "image." Like you say, a lot of those choices are less “green” than just leaving bad enough alone."

"Well, green *is* the color of money!"

"This sort of “green” is really a tax on upper class college-educated guilt. Keeping your old things is far better for the planet than buying new "sustainable" things."

And that last quip is really the difference between green and "green." Manufacturers — especially high-end ones — have figured out that some people have more money than sense, and are willing to pay big bucks to feel better about throwing out perfectly good stuff simply because they wanted a new look.

In this sense, I am way green. Not only do I not have the money to replace all of my stuff and redecorate my home using high-end “eco-friendly” materials, I tend not to want to part with things until they are truly and completely worn out. This, by the way, drive my husband crazy, because my “wait until it’s really all done” mentality has some serious pack-rat potential. Then again, I’m also not repainting my living room and filling my home with VOCs every three months because I’m bored with the decor (as commercials for big-box home improvement stores seem to encourage us to do) or trying to offset my (rather massive, thanks to my commute) carbon footprint by throwing money at it. All of the recycled newspaper in my home is in the bin, thank you very much.

What does green — or “green” — mean to you?

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