Friday, June 27, 2008

Consuming Under The Greenfluence

Yesterday, there was a bit of a conflagration over at No Impact Man. Colin had a post up about how we "APLS" now have a new name. Yes, yes, we needed another one, and apparently the new name is "Greenfluencers." Doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, does it?

Weird name non-withstanding, this "Greenfluencer" thing seemed pretty cool. According to a Porter Novelli report, Greenfluencers are pretty important people. In fact, the report states that more and more, average consumers are turning to Greenfluencers to find out what and what not to buy:
Consumers can rely on Greenfluencers to sniff things out in a way that they may not trust brands and organizations to do- not just the issues but also the issues behind the issues; not just what corporations are saying, but also what they're not saying.

Sounds pretty good to me. But there's more:
They are active, not passive. They join, rally, lobby, write letters and generally believe strongly that collective and personal actions can impact global warming.

They stand out not just for their interest in the environment but also for their overall up-and-at-'em attitude to life... In short, what they lack in numbers they more than make up for in energy and presence.
Well that definitely sounds neat! And consistent with my idea of "APLS" or "Greenfluencers." The report thus concludes that corporations should pay attention to Greenfluencers and do their best to woo said demographic.

Great! Sign me up! I will gladly tell corporations how best to woo me. So I'm all set to leave a nice comment telling Colin how much I like this post, and how great this seems. And ... then I see the comments.

Turns out, I was in the minority in thinking this whole "Greenfluencer" thang was cool. And a lot of the commenters, far from thinking being a Greenfluencer was neat, found the whole thing very, very objectionable. Comment after comment talked about how "real" environmentalists don't consume, and how this was all very bad greenwashing.


Let me tell you something. Unless you are hiding your money underneath your bed, you too are probably a participant in a consumeristic society. The bank you use is likely a multinational bank traded on the stock exchange. The money you deposit in the bank is used by the bank to make a loan to someone else. And if you have a 401(k), or stocks or mutual funds, well, those are all corporations. To suggest that "real" environmentalists aren't consumers is patently absurd. Very few people have the wherewithal or the inclination to completely disengage from the system. Thus, in my view, it's imperative to find ways to achieve a sustainable life within the system. And that means engaging corporations instead of ignoring them and hoping they go away.

I also take umbrage with the idea that environmentalism is some sort of exclusive club and anyone who is not hard-core need not apply. Take my friend Honda. She's not as eco-insane as I am, but she recycles and buys recycled products. She brings her own bag to the grocery store, she tries not to turn on her a/c in the car, and she limits her a/c use in the house. Is she a non-consumer? No. Does she try to buy less while buying more consciously? Yes. Is she an environmentalist? I would say so. Is she the kind of person we eco-types need in our camp? Definitely, yes! Honda is exactly the type of person we want to attract. And while she's smart, and caring, and can definitely be "greenfluenced," she is going to want to buy things here and there. But she would also be willing to pay more for things produced in a more sustainable fashion. And in my mind, that's where Greenfluencers come in.

Now being a Greenfluencer doesn't mean that you have to lie down and let corporations walk all over you. It doesn't mean succumbing to greenwashing. Rather, being a Greenfluencer means positively engaging with companies rather than avoiding them. Take for example, The Take Back The Filter project I mentioned yesterday. I'll let you in on a little secret. Beth drinks her water straight from the tap. For that matter, so do I. Neither of us, personally, feels the need for a Brita filter. So why didn't Beth start an "avoid Brita and just drink tap water" campaign? Why ask Brita to recycle filter cartridges?

Well, it's because Beth recognizes that a lot of people do want filtered water. She's realistic. And so, instead of trying to boycott Brita, she's trying to engage Brita. In essence, Beth is using her "greenfluence" to make Brita a more sustainable company for us all. Would it be easier for Beth to just say, "Don't consume. Avoid Brita." Sure. But would she reach fewer people with that message? I think so.

Ultimately, I'm a non-consumer because I believe that this is the right thing for me, right now. And I write about my positive experiences with non-consumerism in the hopes that other people will be inspired by my actions. I love it when someone tells me, "I almost bought this thing, but then I thought, Arduous wouldn't buy it, so I didn't." I think that's great! I like to think I'm helping provide a road-map to an alternative life-style that people can choose to follow to whatever degree they desire. Part of my job as a Greenfluencer is to act as a role-model for a life based more on consuming experiences, and less on buying stuff.

But ultimately, these are my choices, and this is what is right for me, and I don't pretend to know what is best for other people. We all have to make our own decisions, and we all have to follow our own path. And even those of us who consider ourselves environmentalists may approach things in different ways. Some may focus on growing their own food, but will happily shop at H&M. Others will give up air travel, but will continue to drive a less efficient car. And really, that's okay. Because as a wise Thistle once said, "it’s better to be hypocritical than apathetic when it comes to the environment."

So that's why I'm happy to be a Greenfluencer. Even if I think the name is kinda dumb. Ah, well. At least it's better than YAWNs.


Burbanmom said...

"the idea that environmentalism is some sort of exclusive club and anyone who is not hard-core need not apply".

Those people really chap my ass. Like, oh so sorry I didn't meet YOUR expectations of what an environmentalist should be.

Every. Bit. Helps.

As one of Crunchy's commenters said last week (may even have been Beth) "What are we saving the planet for then? So only smug, self-important people can live on it?"

Joyce said...

Absolutely, every small acton helps. Do people think we're all gong to completely disengage from society? Never travel to see relatives for instance (on roads built by large construction companies or on trains or planes run by huge corprations)? Never attend a movie or play or concert? I mean we're not just talking about consuming material purchases, here, but as you pointed out with your post on gifts, even experiential things have some kind of structure that consumes resources. We have to encourage everyone to pay attention to where they can reduce energy usage, etc., without having to go live in a cave and eat roots and berries.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, and yes. Thanks -

Katy said...

Thanks for this post. I saw the comments over at NIM yesterday and just had to roll my eyes. I apperciated that you commented. I think most people agree with you, they (like me) just didn't want to bother with it.

I think that is the biggest problem facing Enviros. Its not that people don't believe in global warming, or that we are quickly using up our resources. Its the MY way or the "your a idiot" way of addressing people that makes people feel like the little bit they could be doing wouldn't matter anyway (so why bother.) I wish there was a way to get through to the "echo snobs" just how damaging their attidutes can be.

pink dogwood said...

arduous - thanks for saying this

I also take umbrage with the idea that environmentalism is some sort of exclusive club and anyone who is not hard-core need not apply.

Compared to other bloggers I read about, I am a light weight, newbie APLS - but with each passing week my life is becoming environmentally friendlier - Just imagine all the plastic wrappers I have saved by baking all my bread since last November? I guess the key is to do whatever little you can, consistently.

great post.

J said...

Good point about the comments, I read that piece too, and at the end was thinking, "well, this seems like a great idea, since people have to buy things, they can look to people like us to see what they should buy if they are looking to be 'green'".

I often think that part of the problem with the 'environmentalist' community is that we fail to see that not ALL corporations are evil, and regardless, that our livelihood depends on corporations and the economy as much as anyone else, well maybe not as much, but you see my point.

People have to consume things to survive, wouldn't we rather that they consume things that we see are positive rather than just get up in arms that the term 'consumer' is being attached to the green label? I mean, of course, we like to limit consumption, but we can't do it all ourselves.

Like you note, our banks invest our money, our retirement plans invest our money, we spend our money, we should accept that as part of life and figure out ways to encourage the 'proper' use of our money such as not investing our retirement into environmentally and socially destructive ventures.

It's almost as if we alienate ourselves by doing things like this. Yes, in a perfect world people would not need to be told what to buy, we wouldn't have to force corporations to do the right thing, being green wouldn't necessitate personal greenwashing such as the reusable bags being given away at my local grocery store that say "I'm Green!" really big on them, but the point is these are all steps in the right direction. Sometimes I feel like, in the end, yes it would be wonderful if people did the right things for the right reasons, but isn't it more important that they just DO something? I also think so many times we can be an 'all or none' crowd, yes this corporation is starting to do the right thing, but they need to do more, and thus I won't even support the small changes they ARE making. I'm not saying I see this a lot, but I have and it bothers me, I don't see myself as an environmentalist so I can be part of some elite group of people, superior to everyone else because I'm a recycling vegetarian, who doesn't own a car, and eats organic and locally.

And I think you are very right, in the end, besides from greenfluencing corporations, we do the most good by living by example, I've noticed a lot of positive change by people being curious about the way I live and why. The next thing you know, our family members are recycling, buying second hand, buying local, etc.

Sorry for such a long comment!

equa yona(Big Bear) said...

Way to kick ass, woman! I LOVED,"Let me tell you something". I could just see the index finger wagging. And you got to use 'umbrage'! Not often we get to use cool words like that. Loved it all, righteous indignation RULES!

Anonymous said...

Great Post and you are Right On! I am ALL about environmentalism but the attitudes from the 'I am better than you' folks, make it difficult for others to want to participate! It is almost as if these hard-core eco-freaks (I mean those smug, better-than-thou people) have their own religion and if you aren't totally on-board, then you suck!

Every little thing that people do to help our planet's crisis is worthy of praise and support! It just ticks me off that we are so divided! We didn't get in this shape overnight and we certainly aren't going to fix it quickly either. Everyone has to travel on their own path and sometimes it takes baby steps. Being arrogant and pushy about agendas of any kind, only turns-off those who really need to hear and learn the message! We shouldn't slam the door in anyones face! And, unless you want to live like a caveman, we all have to make purchases sometimes! Even the non-shaving, live in the woods, eat only bugs and tree leaves environmentalist uses natural resources to survive!

Unknown said...

Amen, sister! I agree with you 100%.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree. Not only is it unrealistic to think that everyone is just going to stop wouldn't even be a good thing. The key is to try to be a RESPONSIBLE consumer and not a mindless glutton.

There is always going to be that little click of people who feel they are the only ones doing something right with every issue. Those type of people just need to justify their false sense of superiority by finding fault in others. It isn't really an environmental issue...but a personality one.

Anonymous said...

Oh...have you read Inheritance of Loss? It totally made me think of your take on Gandhi.

Melissa said...

what a great post! I hadn't had a chance to read the comments on colin's post yesterday, so I too was surprised to hear how negative they were! I think it's far better, almost always, to recognize & acknowledge the system within which we are working than to pretend said system doesn't exist/apply to us.

EcoBurban said...

Awesome, Arduous. You hit the recycled steel nail on the head! I consider myself a little like your friend Honda. I do the very best I can, but can't call myself a non-consumer. With kids, it's hard to avoid birthday presents, iPods and mini-vans. Though, I do write letters, start recycling programs for organizations like our little league etc. So, maybe I am somewhere in between?

Either way, I agree with the burbs, every little bit helps. If every person on my street actually used their recycling bin for recyclables instead of hockey skate storage, it would be a major movement and save tons upon tons of trash going to the landfill each year. No matter if they drove a hummer or a prius. I just wish more people realized that!

Thanks Arduous for a thoughtful friday post!

Green Bean said...

Right on, Arduous! If we opt completely out of the system, we lose our influence to change how corporations do business, how the world is run. Should we consume less? Absolutely. Should we consume more consiously, looking for products that have a smaller impact? Of course. Might we not consume? Sure but the reality is that most people in the US will still need to buy stuff at times. If we can just get people to think about buying more carefully, we will see a lot of change.

As to the type of club this is? Everyone is welcome. No matter how new, how light green they are. We are all working toward the same goal.

And thanks for sharing that line. I whipped it out the other night at my book club meeting. Everyone there tries to live a lighter life but none of us is perfect. It's nice to have something to say when people point out our small blemishes. It's a journey folks. It's a journey.

ruchi said...

Burbs, exactly. Cindy W has said to me that she would rather get 90%of people to reduce 10% than have 10% of people reduce 90%. And I have to say, I'm with her.

Joyce, I'm laughing about the cave and the roots and berries! That is *definitely* not for me!!

Megan, thanks.

Katy, you are totally right. The danger in the condescending attitude is that it leads people to think, "Well if I can't do everything, I might as well do nothing." SO not true.

Pink Dogwood, ABSOLUTELY! Do what you can, keep striving, and don't beat yourself up. And the more newbie APLS the better!!

Jennifer, yes, good point, most of us also rely on corporations for our livelihood. And long comments are always appreciated. I'm thankful you took the time to comment so thoughtfully on the post.

Equa Yona, thanks!

Bugs and Brooms says:
Being arrogant and pushy about agendas of any kind, only turns-off those who really need to hear and learn the message!
Right on! You are 100% right and that's why we need to treat people with compassion and empathy and not condescension as if we know what is best for everyone in the world.

Bobbi's Book Nook, thanks!! And by the way, fellow bibliophile here. Cool blog!

Orgie, I have NOT read "Inheritance of Loss" but now I am very, very interested. I have it at home (along with 50 other books I haven't read. Ahem.) I'll have to bump it to the top of my reading queue!

Melissa, thanks. To be fair, I think the comments took a turn later in the day and early tomorrow. Sometimes with comments people start piggy-backing on each other, and if you disagree it can be hard to say so until you see someone else who disagrees.

EBM, you may not be a hard-core non-consumer but you still rock!! I am constantly in awe of all you do with your FOUR boys. This is what I mean. We all take different paths. I may not be buying, but I am not making homemade cookies and popsicles every minute of the day like you, Super Mom.

GB, exactly. It's a journey. Let's encourage people along the journey instead of dismissing them because they do not adhere to OUR standards.

Natalie said...

I agree 100% with the notion of running toward a problem, rather than running away from it. The problem will find you no matter where you run. And the solution will always be easiest if you're out ahead of the curve. The idea is not to disengage (run) from society. Rather it is to help re-engage society at large. I have always loved your phrase "opting in".

So here's the problem with the "lynch the corporation" type attitude for me: We do not have a Command-and-Control economy. Ours is a Capitalistic, quasi-free-market, consumer-driven economy. That's the way it is. It can be changed to any form of economy we want. But to change it safely (as in, not dropping us into famine-inducing economic depression) we should probably proceed slowly. What we can do in the short run (as in, today!), is change how and what we consume.

While traditional American consumerism is unhealthy by almost every measure, if we all immediately stopped shopping altogether the economy would tank. There would be no money for schools, for parks, for police, for PT, for investing in new clean technologies. A lot fewer people would be able to afford to buy "green" energy, buy organic food, donate to charities, etc. I can understand how some see "changing consumer habits for the sake of the environment" as a bit of an oxymoron. But I see "fighting the system" as less productive and potentially quite harmful!


Arduous, great post! I agree with you completely. In fact, not only do very few people have the wherewithal or the inclination to completely disengage from the system, it would actually be bad for society if they did so. Remember, it is because people consume that there is a demand for our talents and our labor, which is what enables us to have jobs and become affluent in the first place. By all means, do whatever you can to minimize the negative side effects of consumption like greenhouse-gas emissions, but don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. Instead redirect your consumption to make it more environment friendly, by, for instance, creating a significant economic demand for new clean energy technologies. Rather than saying "I'm going to reduce consumption as much as possible" and try to make yourself as "small" as possible, why not say "I am going to use to power of my consumption to promote products and technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions". If sufficient numbers of people make it clear that they are eager to consume (and willing to pay for) electric vehicles, solar energy, reliable public transport, new recyclable materials, etc., people and companies will come up with innovative ideas to make these happen, based on economic and commercial calculations alone.

Unknown said...

I can't believe people even took offense with the idea of trying to get companies like Brita to take back cartridges. Yeah not using them would be the best option but recycling them is a great one also. *Sigh*

I do think a, unfortunately, a health amount of suspicion is necessarily to keep from getting taken in and end up thinking you need to buy a bamboo shirt and a new GM hybrid Tahoe. So I think it's great that people are questioning whether this is greenwashing or not. We should always be asking ourselves that but we still have to draw a line and decide when even in a small improvement in the worst companies is commendable.

Anonymous said...

I think they are two different things, APLS and Greenfluencers. And they are both positive, good, useful categories. But not the same. Greenfluencers are fine, for all the reasons you point out -- every bit helps, we have to start from where we are. On the other hand, the "S" in APLS is *sustainably.* That has not only to do with whether the stuff you buy comes from an ethical corporation that recycles, doesn't buy from slave labor, etc. But it ALSO means not using more than our fair share. And even most extreme minimalists in the USA still use more than their fair share, so cutting back their consumption as much as possible is still a good thing. No, we shouldn't beat ourselves up when we decide to make a purchase, and yes, we should actively engage with the companies that make the things we buy in order to get them to improve their practices, but declining to consume from them *IS* a more sustainable option. Buying from a small, local company, or finding what you need used, or repurposing or making something yourself is always better. I don't see these two concepts as being in conflict -- they are both real and both important. (my two cents)

ruchi said...

Natalie, great comment! You are right. We absolutely need to engage the system and change it slowly.

Sid, I agree with you that we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I agree that people can use their purchasing power to force companies to produce more sustainable products, and I think that's what greenfluencing is all about. Unfortunately, I think that the corporations are moving a little slowly right now. They're not seeing the clear demand that exists for things like electric cars or more hybrid vehicles. Which is why sometimes, you have to do more than just use your pocketbook to make your thoughts heard. Check out Beth's "Take Back The Filter" Campaign. I'd be really interested to hear what you thought of it. To me, her campaign is exactly the right kind of engagement with companies that we desperately need more of.

SDG, sorry to be clear, I provided the "Take Back The Filter" Campaign as an example. That's not what people were upset about. Mostly people were upset about the idea that greenfluencers even existed. I agree with you, that we do need to be wary. I'm not going to let "The Body Shop" off the hook with their plastic-containing scrubs just because they claim to protect the planet. But I think that's our job as greenfluencers. We can say things like Dr Bronner's is good, Body Shop scrub is bad.

Sue, thank you so much for your incisive comment. I see your point. And I think you're right. APLS and Greenfluencers are different, and there's a lot of overlap between the two groups, but they're not exactly the same thing. And I agree with you that overall, we have to find ways to reduce our consumption of finite resources (as well as our carbon consumption) through technology, through materials recycling, through personal reductions, through government intervention etc, etc. And cutting back, however one chooses to do so, is always a good thing. I just believe, as you say, that we shouldn't beat ourselves up, and that every bit helps. Great points!

Robj98168 said...

I always wanted to be a greenfluencer. I strive for it. Then I realize, no one I know is influenced by me! Nor should they be. Even my sainted mother. The other day I was at her apartment and said "You know I dont think I give myself enough credit" to which she responded "Yes you do"
I tell ya I dont get no respect.

Mad Hatter said...

I like your POV on this, and I've never been fond of the all-or-nothing, "you're either with us or against us" mentality, regardless of what cause it's applied to. See, this post is a perfect example of why I enjoy reading your blog!

Anonymous said...

"Thus, in my view, it's imperative to find ways to achieve a sustainable life within the system. "


Anonymous said...

Arduous, thank you for so clearly articulating why I started the Take Back The Filter campaign. You are absolutely right. I don't live in a cave. I personally choose to live a less consumption-oriented life, but then I leave my house and go to work and see how the rest of the world lives and ask myself what I can do to influence others that has a chance of succeeding and creating real change in this consumer culture.

Various people have asked why I don't just tell people to stop using Brita filters. I could do that. And in fact, I do advise people to get their water tested and find out if they even need a filter. But the fact is that many people would be buying bottled water if it were not for Brita, and if we're going to have a world full of Brita filters, which it looks like we are, we might as well figure out a more sustainable way to have them.

Speaking of consumption, I bought a brand new bicycle this weekend! Do I need to justify the purchase? No, but I probably will on my blog tomorrow.


Sam said...

I tend to be a bit extreme in my thinking and there was a time when I thought everyone ought to live their lives how I expect them too. Certainly made me a fun person to be around.

Slowly (with my aging process), I did begin to see the value of different ways of approaching a solution and the more I thought about it I figured why split hairs as long as the end goal is the same.

I still believe some of my original values are correct, but I figure I'll just be patient and eventually everyone will just start living the way I want everyone to live (I dream big). For one, I seem to be inspiring people both online and offline. And an ego boost is never a bad thing.

One thing that I do find disstressing is all these labels. WTH? Can't we just call everyone who cares "nice people" and move on.

ruchi said...

Rob, Hah! You crack me up.

Dasha & MH, thanks!

Beth, hey thanks for working so hard on the Take Back the Filter campaign. I think we need more people trying to engage with companies rather than just blocking companies out.

Beany, you are right. The labels are getting overwhelming. But I guess the media need things to call us.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I'm tremendously grateful to the people who engage with corporations, who do product research, who check out green claims to see if they're legit.

That includes Beth, and Crunchy Chicken, and the buyers at my coop and the buyers at the organic clothing store and at ReGift and the workers at the Reuse center and a whole bunch of product testers and corporate reform campaigners I don't even know about.

They make it possible that when I do want to buy something, I can make a better choice wihtout having to be a person who does a ton of research. Because I hate to shop and I just won't spend the time it takes to find a good choice among the sea of bad ones.

I do worry about greenwashing, though, and the whole "organic lifestyle" marketing segment - it can be a stopping place instead of the first step into big changes. One of the things I appreciate about the green blogosphere is the attitude of continuous improvement - the challenges and recipes and signposts of progress. I don't see that in other kinds of media, books or magazines or news sources. I'm really glad you guys are out there, sharing which stage you're at and how you got there and how you failed, met, exceeded or changed your goals. It inspires change in small and large increments.

ruchi said...

Rosa, great comment. I agree with you. I think one of the responsibilities green bloggers have is to separate the wheat from the chafe: ie what is green and what is green washing. That's something both Crunchy and Beth excel at which is part of the reason I love their blogs.