Friday, August 15, 2008

A Flaw in the Plan: Should We Buy More?

On the list of People Likely to Go Green, the Greenes are far down the list.  I base this on Franklin's profession - he's a highly compensated attorney who works mostly in financial services for a well-heeled, white-shoe law firm.  Statistically speaking, we are probably more likely to own a Hummer than a hybrid. 

But that's not the whole story.  Franklin has a passion for kayaking.  Spend five minutes on the average river in Metro DC, and you'll be an environmentalist, too - excited by how close we can get to the natural world in the midst of a huge urban area, revived by how great it feels to connect with the natural world, but worried about the impact we're having on such vital waterways - and disgusted by the amount of garbage swimming with the fishes.

So the Greenes have been going green - not bright, stark, off-the-grid green.  But green.  And it turns out that this is a funny balance to strike.

We can buy a flex-fuel vehicle - but we'd have to drive about 15 miles to find a station where we can fill it up.  That's about as many miles as we travel by car many weeks.  Because so many of us who go green manage to cut our car use to almost nothing, who will drive the desire for alternative fuels?

We don't often buy towels.  When we do, we want to get the greenest possible version.  But because our not-green counterparts are buying around six bath towels every year, without regard to their eco-credentials, when we do buy our six bath towels for the decade, we'll be harder pressed to find substitutes.

If we want there to be greener products available, should be shopping more?

I always remind myself that even green products take energy to produce and transport and sell, so even the greenest purchase is not without impact.  But surely we don't intend to shutter the consumer economy and buy nothing ever again?

Do we?

Okay, I don't.  

So how do we get greener products more affordable and more widely available?  Hmmm ...

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