Eco-Friendly Consumerism

Today’s eco branding is no longer here to better the world, but to exploit consumer demand, making us feel rewarded for consuming. So, how does the marketplace get away with ruining the world, and yet claiming credit for fixing it at the same time?

Eco-Friendly consumerism
Eco-Friendly consumerism

What is eco? Eco is short for ecological, a term that has its routes in the study of relationships between living things and the environments they inhabit.

Today, from household items to the cars we drive, one can find more eco-friendly labels plastered everywhere on the shelves than ever before. By buying these products, we are told that we are doing a part in bettering the world, but is that really the case?

Few of us ever consider whether or not consuming more actually helps reduce waste at the same time. The answer, as long as eco-friendly merely implies buying a product with an eco label on them, is no.

Let’s recall some of the places we visit on a regular basis.

The supermarket for example, while many places of the world have banned plastic and even paper bags altogether, one is never too from an array of totes. Totes printed in a thousand colors with phrases like “I love recycling,” or worse “Save the World.” No one seems too bothered by the pollution that this variety of totes have created.

Then there are “eco” products such as coffee mugs with eco-slogans that acknowledge our good behavior. There are eco-burger joints that serve “morally delicious” angus beef that is very sustainably made from cattle raised with corn, then killed, cut up, packed, shipped, frozen, shipped again, frozen again, cooked, and served with paper and plastic before it reaches the individual consumer.

Even Trek Bicycles has their eco bike Atwood. It uses biodegradable materials, yet its very existence is to entertain the eco ego because no other bicycle in Trek’s thirty-plus aluminum bicycle catalogue is built eco-friendly. Then there’s the endless pit of eco-friendly consumer electronics that come in a million colors and a trillion plastic and silicone components.

In general there is an industry-standard practice of having an entire line of regular environmentally-damaging products and just a few eco ones for show. What does that say about our eco commitment?

An Arsenal of Eco Products, Ready to be Consumed

Starbucks has recently unveiled its newest store in the coffee giant’s hometown of Seattle. While the idea of using a recycled shipping container as a store front might seemed a novel idea, the plastic straws, caps, and paper cups yet another Starbucks will generate make even the most casual of environmentalists cringe.

And by the way, it is also a drive through.

Eco Truck (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)
Eco Truck (photo: Raymond Yeung | sociecity)

The carbon footprint created by everything we do is so astonishing, and so there is a large disconnect between proponents of all things eco-friendly and the physical reality of executing all of them. The eco-friendliness of something is only as positive as the production end, meaning however witty an idea is, it isn’t “eco” if the source of production or end result introduces more pollution.

We cannot possibly hope to reduce our waste by consuming more.

Each and every new product, eco or not, requires varying degrees of raw materials. Regardless of how eco-friendly the harvesting process is, goods for the masses demand ecologically-damaging harvesting, transportation, and storage to minimize cost and create a large profit turnout.

On the other side is tight control over production with high cost and a limited audience; a much riskier business tactic and sheltered business practice that is nearly useless from the perspective of globalized economy.

Just imagine: new products of all kinds requiring new packaging, new delivery routes, new advertising material, storage, even web based sales uses energy; and shipping a product from continent to continent just to reach a single individual shows us only a fraction of this invisible, yet very real pollution. With over half of America powered by coal, the puny savings that entertain our intellectual arrogance can hardly be called eco-friendly.

Are the contradictions more apparent today? The eco brand was perhaps invented with good conscience, but it almost immediately became the victim of the market place.

Today, the eco branding is no longer here to better the world, but to exploit consumer demand.

The question is: do we need to feel rewarded for consuming?

Marketing directors everywhere will agree that people need a big pat on the back for being good consumers, even if it is contradictory to the cause. And what’s good for business is good for the economy, and what’s good for the economy is good for the government; a very unfortunate branch of logic when policy sides with commercial exploits. With our current state of economic distress, I doubt any leader will dare to stand in the way of economic growth at any expense of nature.

But I digress.

Coca-cola eco advertisement
Coca-cola eco advertisement

Our chauvinism and arrogance is clear, but let’s take a moment and consider the worst case scenario which scientists claim: at the peak of global warming comes rising water levels, run away green house effect, everything dies, but the planet is still around. The lesson is that we humans, just don’t really matter. As once said by George Carlin “a planet don’t need saving from a species that can’t even take care of itself.” And so we are trying anything. It’s not about saving the planet, it’s about saving our own asses, and we are doing a terrible job at it so far.

All of this negativity might seem a bit extreme because under this dark umbrella, almost everything we do for fun is a cause for concern. But we have a daunting task in undoing damages from the past to avoid more damage in the future, so perhaps extreme is not a good word to describe it all, and perhaps minimal is what we should consider.

Fixing the environment is not about feelings, it is about scientific examination and application of realistic solution in this finite world.

So don’t let this turn into yet another casual chat over lunch or dinner, take guilt and knowledge and turn it into action, reconsider every time you make a purchase whether it is a gas stop, a restaurant, or at school. Reconsider your purchases everywhere, all the time, and maybe, just maybe, it could be that you should not make that purchase at all.

 

Further reading:

National Geographic Channel: Six Degrees Could Change the World

Impact from a Cattle Waste Lagoon Rupture on a Downstream Fish Farm: A Case Study

Starbucks Opens New Reclamation Drive Thru Made From Recycled Shipping Containers

Coca-Cola Polar Bear Support Fund

Great Pacific Garbage Patch

 

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