What will our new eco-friendly, green world look like?

Activate your imagination and let your wildest dreams surge forth.  Paint a clear picture—it can and will become real.

The oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico catapulted many into deep despair and anger.  Yet, in the end, the accident could very well serve as the impetus for massive change aimed at saving this endangered planet.  The catastrophic oil accident mixed with the accelerating impacts of climate change has become a potent call to action.

People in the “developed” world are waking up in droves to the horrible impact of our over-the-top oil addiction. This addictive behavior harms not just us, but also the people and environments in the countries producing our toxic products en masse.  More and more individuals are taking personal responsibility and finding ways to reduce their oil consumption.

Environmental change or clever spin?

Likewise, more companies are embracing eco-friendlier approaches to production and product marketing.  As an example, I recently found this message at the bottom of a Timberland shoe box printed on top of a stencil of a shoe sole:

“What kind of footprint will you leave?”

Great question! On the inside of the box top, Timberland assures us:

“And yes, of course, this box is made from 100% post consumer recycled materials and printed with soy and water based inks.  Reuse it.  Then recycle it.”

Timberland continues the inner box top script asking the question, “How will we change today?”   The company answers itself with these words, “The opportunity to make it better is everywhere if we choose to act.” It kindly provides a small list of inspiring opportunities for action.

Good work, Timberland. I applaud your enlightened efforts.  Every step in a green direction is positive and should not be denigrated.  At the same time, we need to ask, “Is this enough?”  First steps are critical, but let them not be the only steps.  As consumers, we need to have a discerning eye to distinguish between truly effective, visionary action and marketing chíc.

I don’t want to pick on Timberland unfairly because it engages in multiple endeavors to sustain the environment.  The company has a long-term strategy to become carbon neutral by 2010, it uses a portion of recycled materials in its products, and offers a collection called ‘Earthkeepers™’ especially intended to have a smaller environmental footprint.

I can’t help but ask, shouldn’t all our products be Earthkeepers™? I hope that’s the ultimate intention.

A good fraction of Timberland’s footwear continues to be constructed from leather. As most of you know, factory farming utilizes a high proportion of environmental resources in addition to its other detrimental effects. Timberland is without question moving in the right direction, but is it enoughWhat else can be done?

It’s up to us as consumers to educate ourselves and ask penetrating questions again and again.  At the same time, we need to curb our own appetite for the frivolous and reduce the market for high-resource products like leather by making alternative choices.  Companies respond to markets and consumers shape markets.  The power is in our hands if we unite in the same direction.

Full-out greenwashing

On the other end of the spectrum is full out ‘greenwashing‘—claiming a product to be organic and natural when it’s not. One example of a confusing marketing message is offered by Herbal Essences, the #2 selling shampoo in America produced by Proctor and Gamble.

Petrol Essences

In the brief, informative, and dynamic video, The Story of Cosmetics, Annie Leonard asks, “Since when do herbs come from petroleum?”  Do not be fooled, Herbal Essences has very little in the way of herbal essences.  Its ingredients include one petroleum derived product after another.

Who can we really trust? Apparently, not Proctor and Gamble.  The same type of greenwahsing goes on with products commonly found at your health food store too.

Here are some “organic” brands that may not be living up to their promise:  Amazon Organics, Avalon Organics, Desert Essence Organics, Earth’s Best Organic, Giovanni Organic Cosmetics, Head Organics, JASON Pure Natural and Organic, Nature’s Gate Organics, Organics by Noah’s Naturals.

Staying educated and abreast of green affairs is critical.  Otherwise, you are at risk for being hoodwinked by empty eco-friendly marketing claims.

Climate-neutral production?

Reducing a company’s “carbon footprint” is now common lingo, but is it real and will it make enough of a difference?  I recently received a Super Saver booklet in the mail from KTA market.  On the back, I found this carbon neutral statement:

KTA Super Stores is a sustainable contributor to voluntary climate protection by producing each Super Saver in a climate-neutral manner and offsetting Co2 emissions through the following approved climate protection project… KTA Super Stores is the first supermarket in the nation to participate in the natureOffice carbon neutral program.  This Super Saver is also recyclable and made with 20% recycled fiber.”

Is it just me?  I found it humorous to be told that this Super Saver is “recyclable” as if this were a unique innovation developed by KTA. Maybe I’m missing something here, but hasn’t paper always been recyclable?  Before getting too excited about its recyclable potential, read on to see that the booklet is only made of 20% recycled fiber.  What about the other 80%?

Why am I even receiving this 78-page booklet addressed to “resident” in the mail? I don’t shop at KTA, I haven’t requested the booklet, and I don’t need it.  In my case, it goes directly in the recycle bin.  Others may trash it. What a waste!  Does functioning in such a wasteful way nullify efforts to become carbon-neutral to any degree, I wonder?

When it comes right down to it, the vast majority of products in any super market are not essential to humankind’s survival nor are they particularly green.  They are swathed in plastic packaging, which is derived from petroleum, and typically transported for thousands of miles.  Again, I bow to KTA’s commitment to produce its booklet in a carbon neutral fashion.  It’s a good start, but don’t we need to do a little bit more than this to actually turn around climate change and liberate ourselves from oil dependence?  Re-thinking what we eat as well as what and how much we really need given the epidemic of obesity might be a great place to start.

Once again, as consumers, it’s up to ask to keep asking the piercing questions.  Let’s not be fooled by fallacious marketing claims or modest but limited attempts toward safer and saner production methods. Too much is at stake to believe that corporations suddenly have our green interest at heart.  Let’s celebrate every positive step, but be sure to voice the highest expectations.

You have the power to effect change every time you purchase a product. In Small Ways to Make a Big Difference, Karen Ruby from the blog A Meaningful Existence suggests,

“Every dollar in your pocket is a vote. Don’t forget it. Every single one is counted. It’s a failsafe system. It’s perfect democracy.”

What will our new green, eco-friendly world look like?

Personal development experts speak about ‘life-design.’  Even more critical is the remarkable opportunity before us to express our collective creative and imaginative forces for the purpose of a wide-sweeping ‘planet-redesign.’  Instead of becoming discouraged or depressed about the oil spill, become creative, proactive, and visionary.  A green, life-affirming trend is already gaining tremendous momentum.

The blog Treehugger says the transition away from oil based products will be a decades long process.  A full 71%  of oil goes to transportation—transporting ourselves and the goods and foods we purchase. Treehugger advises,

“…if we want to really use less oil, we have to construct our communities, our product manufacture and distribution chains so that less daily travel is needed. So the average person doesn’t need to own a car at all. We have to create more walkable and bikeable communities. Beyond that we need to re-localize and regionalize economic activity for all those goods which can be produced in this way–recognizing that not everything can or should.”

Reducing the number of oil-based products you use is important for a whole range of reasons like waste, pollution, and health, but the biggest gains will come from driving and flying less and walking and biking more.

According to the Nature Conservancy, if everyone cut their daily driving by 5.4 miles, the U.S. could halt drilling in the Gulf of Mexico altogether. Treehugger recommends moving closer to where you work and living in smaller-scale communities.  Buying local products is another huge part of the equation, since a good proportion of the 75% of oil use goes to transporting food and products.

At Upcycled Love, Lynn Fang speaks passionately about  a ‘Sustainable Economy,‘ in which businesses evolve to “revere the triple bottom line: people, planet, profit.”  Lynn says:

“The possibility of a sustainable economy means there is a way we can run our society without completely depleting our resources. There is a way we can live happily, with profit, and with care to our environment. The issue is not whether it is a possibility, the issue is how we’re going to get there.”

It is possible. I find the prospect of reconstructing our communities in more ideal ways a fascinating challenge.  This is the creative task before us in this time of unfathomable potential for building a bright new future.  It all begins with living simply and consciously so others may simply live.

What’s your vision for our new eco-friendly, green world?

If you liked this post, please share it with others.  Thanks very much!  Sandra