Less Green Is More Green

by Sarah at ProgressiveKid

Ribbon clumpThe term green has come to mean much more than simply “made in an environmentally friendly way.” Green means a forest wasn’t felled, a river wasn’t polluted, a child wasn’t forced to work. It means that country A didn’t destroy its own resources and economy to make something for country B.*

To put it in more positive terms, green is used to describe that which is life-sustaining. The term has come to signify a system of values that is still evolving and that is wide-ranging and broadly defined. And, in fact, by its very nature perhaps, the definition of green must, like its inspiration, be ever-evolving. There is, after all, nothing static about life on earth.

To underscore the fluidity of green, let me share an additional definition my four-year-old daughter taught me over the Christmas holiday. During the gift opening with my extended family, she steadfastly refused, to the barely controlled exasperation of her grandparents, to open a new gift until she had fully interacted with the one just opened. This interaction in some cases lasted several hours, and so we found ourselves in the unusual position of carting back home a boxload of unopened gifts. They remained unopened for several more weeks, despite inquiring and impatient phone calls from the gift givers.

Whatever you may think of the etiquette of delaying the opening of gifts so eagerly given, you’ll undoubtedly agree that my daughter had received too many gifts: too many to enjoy, too many to reflect on, too many to focus on. And those of us who chose to in the process received the understanding that less green is more green.

Green also means less.

How wise is it for me to say this publicly, given my current profession as retailer? Although I very much enjoy the inflow of green cash from customers and, in fact, cannot survive very well without it, I have as my goal not for people to buy as many things as possible from me but for them to make careful purchasing selections (which, I believe, in the long run will favor me as a retailer), and I help them do that by offering an already carefully selected array of products.

The fact is that one of the biggest threats to our planet and life on that planet is overconsumption. Worldwatch Institute’s State of the World 2004 reports that, since 1960, private household spending on non-essential goods and services has increased four-fold. It now tops $20 trillion annually, which includes the spending of the average U.S. consumer on 48 new items of clothing a year. With the proliferation of green stores and websites has come the expansion of choice in purchasing, and some of those 48 new outfits likely consist of organic or hemp apparel. We green shoppers now have so much more to choose from than natural-colored organic T-shirts and pleather shoes. And so the overconsumption that pervades the rest of life now extends to the world of green products as well.

I’m not taking a stand against gift giving. To the contrary, I’m advocating more focused attention on gift giving with an emphasis on selection over quantity. The term green perhaps can take on another new meaning: thoughtful. The well-chosen, carefully considered gift that shows the gift giver has been listening, has been watching, is a good friend, and knows and values the recipient is worth so much more, even if it costs much less, than a stack of random gifts, no matter that they’re made from recycled car parts by well-paid laborers in a worker-owned cooperative facility with 50% of profits going toward saving the polar bear.

What gift did my daughter value the most? I don’t know. But for days on end—and it’s a cliché because it happens so often— she amused herself with a brightly colored ribbon that had adorned one of her many gifts.

*Here’s a more formal definition: We now consider something that is green not to (1) have required the destruction of precious rare resources in its production, (2) disseminate toxins in its use, (3) require slave or child or sweatshop labor in its manufacture, (4) involve the misuse and overuse of land or resources in one country for the enjoyment of the people of another, and even (5) disseminate messages that are counterproductive to survival of life on the planet (can a violent video game packaged in recycled cardboard be considered green?) and (6) favor one gender or race over another.

©2007 ProgressiveKid. May not be reprinted or redisplayed without permission.

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