A friend of mine observed the other day that the conversation surrounding the whole “green” phenomenon is eerily reminiscent of the hype surrounding tech start-ups in the dot.com era. I can’t really make that comparison, because I was too young (and insolated by the rolling hills and illicit drugs of the Hocking River basin) at that time to have much of any idea about what was going on in the world circa 2000, but I do agree that the idea of “going green” is getting a bit out of control. My friend’s reaction was spawned by this USA Today article about “ecomarketing:”
In the three months ending June 14, marketers shelled out a combined $18 million on green-focused TV ads, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Those ads ranged from Earth Day sales promotions to commercials for hybrid cars. While an environmentally sound stance is good for Earth, it doesn’t hurt a marketer’s brand reputation — and increasingly it is a path to higher sales and profits.
I had similar thoughts to hers after reading a piece the other day about “green weddings.”
The bride chose a gown that could be worn again to parties, the groom organized guest car pools in hybrid vehicles, and the reception was held in an outdoor Japanese garden instead of a big, energy-sucking hall. Everything about Kristy Wang and Nik Kaestner’s big day in San Francisco was decidedly “green” – from locally grown, organic vegetables and sustainably harvested fish to homemade tablecloths that were later turned into dinner napkins.
There are apparently a whole slew of companies devoted to planning “green weddings” – which to me just seems like another way for the bloated bridal industry to try and suck money out of people while, in the meantime, couples with too much money can feel morally satisfied with their table setting choices … but whatever. Supply and demand, etc. etc. Who are any of us to judge what anybody else spends money on?
All of this is just to say, however, that it seems the issue of “green” businesses and products and marketing and practices etc. etc. has, in “issue attention cycle” terms, reached the critical stage. But while what is needed are at least a few grand sweeping solutions (enacted by either corporations or governments or nonprofits or whoever), the bulk of the focus is on individualizing frames/behaviors. How can you reduce waste at your wedding? How can you use your consumer purchasing power to “go green?” How can you do the right thing by buying the right brands of laundry detergent and bottled water (isn’t the whole concept of ecologically friendly bottled water kind of funny?)
There’s nothing wrong with all of this, of course – I mean, obviously the more everyone changes behaviors in little ways the better – but I feel like it has the potential to collectively delude us into feeling a lot better about the earth than we should. My friend asked, how are we measuring success? Is it by sound policy made, or the variety of brands of ecologically friendly toilet paper available at your local grocery?
P.S. For a good illustration of what can happen in the stage just past critical in the issue attention cycle (and perhaps a more apt comparison for the green craze than the dot.com boom), just think about recycling. Hey, remember recycling? It’s not that people don’t recycle at all anymore, but it doesn’t seem as imperative, for sure. There was a time when you’d get verbally crucified if you said you didn’t recycle; now nary a soul so much as blinks when you tell them to throw their glass beer bottle in the trash can.