Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Op Ed Piece: Selling Green

Going Green is the bandwagon du jour. All sorts of businesses are jumping on the Green bandwagon and, unfortunately, the gullible public are swallowing their bait hook line and sinker.

It's really sad to think that common sense takes a back seat whenever the advertisement states that the company that wants to sell you something is also saving the planet. Where is the questioning, you may, or may not ask? Where is the analytical mentality to ask the right questions? So often it is seriously missing.

Bandwagons are to be jumped on, it seems, usually without thought as to where the bandwagon may be heading. While there are many sensible schemes out there for the taking, they do seem to be in the minority. So I thought it might be useful to illustrate some ideas as to how to separate the valid from the invalid.

First, question any company that is suggesting you replace you old "thing" with their latest super-green "thing". Question the actual difference between operating costs and if it is not that great you need go no further, save your hard earned taxed wages and move on. If there is significant economy to be taken advantage of, this becomes more a function of your feelings about saving the planet. Your may like your old "thing" and not want to part with it. That's your choice and you should stick with it. But if you really want to upgrade, ask how much the replacement "thing" costs in terms of its manufacture. Some apparently green raw materials require significant amounts of water to be refined - perhaps in an environment where water is scarce. Should you support the manufacture of such a product?

Second, question the political driver behind your potential purchase. Carbon offsetting is pure politics, dealing with a zero-sum game that cannot help the planet. Fortunately, many of the tree-planting scams are being revealed for what they are, but even so I still get e-mails from one airline (Air Canada) telling me how I can feel better about making my next transatlantic flight by carbon-offsetting. And how is that tree you bought in a Hungarian plantation doing? Are you sure they actually planted it?

Third, the best way to judge a green decision is to ask yourself the simple question - is it good for me? If it is honestly good for you it is probably also good for society and the planet. "Good for me" doesn't mean a selfish motive, it means, "would I be better off making this purchase or changing this aspect of my life?" So often the Green cause is really being frugal with one's resources. There's no need to make a political statement when you know you just saved yourself a bunch of money!

Fourth, be careful not to confuse waste with consumption. Everyone consumes, whether we want to or not. When we waste, we are consuming something that might be useful to someone else.

Today I went to the local re-cycling center with a load of garden refuse. While there I noticed a small box of items the staff had picked out that should never have been thrown out. I spied an unopened pack of 10 soft scrubbing brushes. Brand new, perfectly good but thrown out of a wasteful household. I kept four and shared the other six with a lady who said "I have several elderly neighbors who could really use one of these".