green-america-logo“In the end, the biggest problem with green consumerism may be that it acts as a smokescreen, creating the impression that people are taking environmental issues seriously while allowing them to continue their lives as usual.” Lee and English 2011

While promoting the sales of building products for the construction industry, the greenproducts website features a seal that reads “Green America: Approved for People and Planet.”  At buygreen.com, the browser finds an emblem that reads “1% for the planet.”  The web-surfing consumer finds a wide array of specialty products for the home and the self at buygreen.com; choices vary from the ‘wooden utensil picnic pack’ to the fashionable ‘ceramic closed spiral earings.’  These sites and numerous others (a simple google search for green products yielded over 1,000,000,000 results) encourage consumers to buy more things and promote the conception that we can save the planet and be environmental while still having a highly intensified level of consumerism.  But how “green” are many of these purchasing acts and can we really be making an environmental difference without changing how we live and the amount of energy and resources we consume?  What on earth is this green moment we are told we are living in?

Justin Gillis, writing for The New York Times last week reported that “The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone…reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.  Scientific instruments showed that the gas had reached an average daily level above 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.”

Affixing seals and emblems such as “Green America” and “1% for the planet,” are oftentimes contradictory.  They contribute to greenwash — marketing techniques used to make the public feel better about their unchecked consumption and waste habits.  Marcus Linder, in his article for The Centre for Business Innovation, writes that “there are many benefits to be gained for a firm by marketing its offers and brands as green.”  While this may be true, I would argue that the emblems found on popular green product websites — and on product packaging — actually distract the buyer from the reality of the environmental consequences of producing goods (and climate change) by promoting an ethic of consume what you wish as long as it carries our tag.  Green consumerism is usually anything but green.  What makes most sense is to look past the veil of marketing, to challenge our own routines, and to think about (and act on) how we consume and waste.