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One Ecology professor’s view of all this “green” consumer hype

Published May 31, 2008

by dbazely

It's over a year since Al Gore won an oscar for An Inconvenient Truth. The 2008 Earth Hour and Earth Day have come and gone. "Green Awareness" events do tend to be more frequent in spring, as we come out of hibernation and notice the environment - tree pollen, tulips etc. But, there is definitely also a tsunami of environmentally-driven advertising, products and newspaper coverage. Globe & Mail columnist, Karen von Hahn wrote about what she sees as some of the hypocrisy of 'ethical consumption' in her May 24th column "Hey Bono, shopping is supposed to be fun".

Ms. von Hahn is quite right to question whether "buying fair trade really does make trade fair". This is an important area of research in universities, and everyone else should think about it too. The ecological reason for why green shopping IS an important piece of the sustainability puzzle, though not the whole picture, is that from its birth, EVERY organism is a consumer. Even if we abolished all shopping malls and our consumer society, we'd still all be consuming, simply by breathing, drinking, eating and occupying space.

One key sustainability goal for Homo sapiens (us humans), needs to be that we each consume as little as possible in terms of materials and energy. Should we be thinking about where stuff comes from, who made it (and how they are being treated), how much gas was burned in getting it to the store, and where the metal came from, etc? ABSOLUTELY Ms. von Hahn! Because when you are doing that much research into the ecological and carbon footprints of stuff, shopping bcomes EXHAUSTING. And that's good, because, in answer to the question that we ask our kids to ask themselves in the local sweetshop "Do I WANT it or do I NEED it?", you are much more likely to buy only stuff that you really do NEED or are really motivated to WANT. So, there's the bottom-line - responsible consumers will tire themselves into reduced consumption as a consequence of their increased awareness!

Dawn Bazely

Posted in: Blogs | IRIS Director Blog | Shopping the Talk