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Going green or going “green”?

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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? 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 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.”

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

“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, 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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7 comments so far...

  • I have mixed feelings about the “going-green revolution” myself. I am all about preserving the planet but I do think these new products are just a gimic for manufacturers to make more money. 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 think your concept of using an item until it’s completely spent is much more responsible than trying to replace everything with green products. Buying used off of ebay and craigslist or going to garage sales is a better way to go; it’s easier on the wallet AND the environment.

    Sara  |  June 10th, 2010 at 9:31 am

  • I’m big on anything that saves money AND respects the environment. Bonus points if it saves me time and energy too. Most things that fall into this category are NOT trendy, LOL. Like having a much simpler wardrobe, telecommuting, potty training ASAP, and limiting vacuuming to once a month. (We don’t have pets, for the record.)

    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. In addition, the “science” of “green” keeps changing, so the idea of making a big investment (using lots of resources) to greenify one’s life is questionable to me. Meanwhile, many these people continue to make choices of convenience or extravagance that are any color but green.

    Sometimes I make a choice that is decidedly not green, but I know I will make up for it by being frugal about whatever it is. Because I am frugal about pretty much everything.

    SKL  |  June 10th, 2010 at 9:35 am

  • I’ve been thinking about this lately too - and am really disgusted by the whole “green” movement, especially when people try to out-green each other and then get smug about spending thousands to do so.

    But I hadn’t thought of myself as green until I saw some of these comments, especially the one about re-use. We don’t have a house crammed with furniture, but what we do have is 90% hand-me-down. The couch, loveseat, our bed, Amelie’s dresser and the low table in the kitchen are the ONLY new furniture items we’ve bought.

    Almost all of Amelie’s toys and clothes are hand-me-down, and we’ve kept the chain going by passing along clothes and toys to our friends with babies. We also donated her carseat/carrier when she outgrew it, as well as her swings and other major items to a shelter for battered/homeless mothers and children.

    We recycle everything possible, especially since a box of 10 trash bags mandated by our city costs 20 dollars.

    Our dishes are a combination of new and thrift store, as are our cooking utensile/pots/pans - but they’ll be used until they’re all broken or completely destroyed.

    A lot of my clothes are over 10 years old. Thank God I’m a jeans and t-shirt type and that never really goes “out”.

    We have one car and use it for our commute daily. I drop M off at work, then Amelie at day care and then get to work myself - and reverse the trip going home. Additionally, we never drive in town. We walk, take the bus, or take the T.

    At night, our rather large place is lit by one wall sconce. Rooms are left unlit unless they’re being used for a long period of time. The computer is turned off before bed, as is the gaming console and everything else.

    Honestly, I hadn’t ever realized how “green” we really were, but it wasn’t a matter of being trendy or even conscientious about it. It was how we were raised (partially) - to waste nothing. It’s also to do with economics. We don’t have money to replace things that don’t need replacement. Yes, we really need a bigger table in the dining room which is where we eat our meals (the table in the kitchen is used as extra counter space, rather than springing for new ones installed) and we’ll get one later this year, on installment payments. But that small table will go to either the kitchen (we may re-arrange) OR to someone else who needs it.

    Sorry. Didn’t mean to be so long-winded. It’s just that it’s a new sort of mental inventory for me!

    Phe  |  June 10th, 2010 at 12:06 pm

  • I think a more helpful model for many people who are serious about their environmental impact is the “reduce, reuse, recycle” model. I’m starting to see that cautiously returning. This was the focus I saw in the 90s and it really takes all 3 for a truly meaningful impact.
    I grew up in an area that was at the leading edge of many environmental movements, but was still heavily addicted to their cars. Where I currently live, fewer are car-addicts but many don’t even consider recycling.
    If we all were to use a little less, repurpose more and recycle what we can, that, IMHO, is the essence of a truly green life.

    Mich  |  June 10th, 2010 at 12:14 pm

  • I just saw some “eco-friendly” women’s clothing online (aventuraclothing.com), and it’s a perfect example of what we’re talking about here. 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.

    Lylah  |  June 10th, 2010 at 12:19 pm

  • I agree with Mich, reduce, recycle, reuse. I think there are a lot of products out there that are riding the wave of the green movement to make folks less guilty about consuming and therefore buy more products. Everything that is manufactured, green or not causes impact. But, I strongly believe there are products that use less harmful chemicals, or more sustainable practices that are better for the environment, the people making them and ultimately the consumer. In reference to the organic tank top, the price seems high to me as well. But anything we buy super cheap, especially clothing or food, somebody along the line got screwed. So it seems simply reducing our intake and consuming products that actually do make a difference if bought with the “green label” may be a good compromise.

    Jessica  |  June 10th, 2010 at 4:11 pm

  • What many people don’t pay attention to with all these “green” products is that they had to be manufactured and transported somehow. Many times, your environmentally friendly product made just as much carbon footprint as the non eco-friendly ones. Depending on the product’s lifespan and use, you may be able to win out in the long term, but for many products, it’s a wash. Also, unless you dispose of your eco-friendly products by composting or recycling them, they will spend just as much time in the landfill decomposing as a synthetic product. Even biodegradable products don’t decompose well when placed in a heap of trash.

    LMJN  |  June 11th, 2010 at 9:03 am

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