Monday, September 28, 2009

Shopping to Save the World

A couple of days ago as we were eating a family dinner, my dad pointed out a "save the rain forest" promotion on a box of Tropicana Orange Juice. According to Tropicana, they will protect 100 square feet of rain forest, every time you enter a code you find on a box of Orange juice. I am pretty ambivalent about such promotions. On the one hand, there's nothing wrong with raising awareness of environmental issues. On the other hand, I feel such promotions have a healthy dose of green washing in them. Marketers these days are trying to sell us on the notion that we can shop our way to a cleaner world and a healthy environment, when truth is the exact opposite. It's our consumerism and shopping that is driving the planet to the brink of environmental disaster.

All manners of car companies, from Toyota to Ford are now advertising their hybrid vehicles as environmentally friendly. Even energy companies - read "oil companies" - are now trying to sell us on the notion of their products being more environmentally friendly (see this campaign from Chevron for example). However, reality happens to be in the exact opposite direction: nothing you buy will improve the environment. Nothing you buy will slow down global warming. If the environment is on your mind, buy less, not more.

True, there are some products that are more environmentally friendly than others. Hybrid cars certainly require less gas than a "light truck" or SUV. So if you must have a car, definitely go for one that will have a smaller negative impact on the planet, but don't delude yourself into thinking that you are actually improving the environment. You are only doing less damage than you would otherwise. Still, there are some exceptions. If you buy a product that reduces your net impact (e.g. a compact fluorescent light bulb to replace a regular light bulb), you are, in fact, creating a net positive change. That's a good thing.

Drinking orange juice to save the planet? Drinking tap water would be better, and would also save you money. That's not to say that you shouldn't drink orange juice, only that you shouldn't tell yourself comforting lies about why you're doing so.

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