On Environmentalism Becoming Consumerism

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor years, I have called myself an “environmentalist” in that I care about the state of the environment and its affect on the human species. Most of the time I never really think about it, it’s just the word I use to describe myself when discussing my interests. But lately, this word is thrown around without much concern over how it is used, and some version of it is showing up in the advertising and marketing of goods and services that are actually anything but “environmental.”

Corporations and salespeople are in a hurry to capitalize on the whole “green” thing. Items never before considered green – such as enormous packages of bottled water – are now being labeled as such. Cars are environmentally-friendly, toxic skincare products are labeled “natural,” and gadgets are designed to help you be more “green.” For most all of these things, these terms are meaningless and are meant to only attach themselves on to our desire to be environmentalists; but the truth is, they are really the exact opposite.

Here are five things commonly found in stores under the “green” label:

  1. Single-serve coffee makers. Those machines use plastic coffee pods that are often labeled as being recyclable – but only if you fully wash them out, take them apart, and separate all the pieces… which we know no one is doing.
  2. Biodegradable trash bags. When trash gets buried in a landfill, these bags will never actually biodegrade. That process requires oxygen, which buried trash never gets.
  3. Paper shredders. These are no more green than just recycling that pile of paper. In fact, buying yet another gadget made in China is worse than burning that paper.
  4. Disposable diapers. No, not the regular old disposables. Organic cotton disposables from Huggies. Not only do they still get thrown away, but now organic cotton is being harvested to make something that gets used just a single time.
  5. Eco-friendly utensils. Know what other kind of utensils are eco-friendly? The metal ones we all have been using for centuries.


Environmentalism and sustainable living isn’t about buying a product to make yourself more green or friendly to nature. All the consuming in the world isn’t going to help one bit. It’s about changing major parts of your lifestyle for the good of the planet and its inhabitants. Behavior changes and adaptations can affect how we live our lives, plastic doodads just end up filling landfills as soon as the next fad hits store shelves. Want to really make a difference? Try a few of these tips on for size:

Eat less meat.

I will never tell anyone to stop eating meat, as I eat meat, I enjoy it, and I believe my body needs it. But we all can eat a little less, don’t you think?

Drive less.

Combine errands, use public transportation, pump up the air in your bike tires, or try to telecommute one day a week from home.

Avoiding flying when possible.

Not much irks me as much as environmentalists flying to green events halfway around the world, or someone claiming to go on an “eco-vacation” by jet setting to some rainforest. Flying is absolutely horrible for the environment and should be avoided. Take the train, that’s what I do. I haven’t been on a plane since 2007.

Reuse and repurpose.

Buy solidly made goods that will last a long time, can be reused for other purposes, or can be rebuilt when broken. Stop consuming for consumption sake.

Reduce energy use.

Turning the thermostat up or down a few degrees will have no effect on your comfort, but if everyone did it we could save massive amounts of energy.

Realize humans are not the center of the universe.

Every creature and piece of nature we are surrounded by plays a role in our safety and future. We are not a god nor should we play one.

Simplify, simplify.

No one person or small family needs four bathrooms, five televisions, multiple cars, a vacation home, and an RV. People make feel like they deserve such toys because they work hard, but this needs to change if we are to have any hope of saving ourselves.

Sadly, the environmental movement has become just another place for companies to sell us more crap we don’t need. Don’t fall victim to their marketing genius, and realize that the only way to be true to the term “environmentalist” is to make solid changes in your life – no purchase necessary.


On Environmentalism Becoming Consumerism — 16 Comments

  1. I love this post! I always wondered about organic diapers….why? They just get thrown away anyways.

    For the single serve coffee makers, my mom found a reusable pod thingy that you just fill with your own coffee and clean it out each time!

  2. I always reuse everything I can – – I remake things from old sweaters, hats, t’s, you name it. It’s thoroughly irresponsible to just keep on buying when you can make old into new.

  3. Getting more value from the things we buy seems like the simplest solution. Little things like recycling printer paper or getting rid of all the plastic bottles and go reusable.

  4. Interesting about the trash bags. We have stopped using them, as there is no waste collection where I live, we have to dig a hole and burn what we can, compost the rest. It would just be more plastic.

  5. I always wonder about things that are labeled with “green-friendly.” It’s sort of like saying crackers are healthy because they don’t contain trans-fat. I can’t believe you haven’t flown since 2007 though. I have to say that even though I don’t travel much, that one seems like it would be really hard to accomplish. I try to do as much as I can, but but I always know I can do more. Thanks for the reminders!

  6. I absolutely love this article. I can’t stand how big industries are using “green” to sell things. That doesn’t help the environment at all. Our biggest problem is that we simply consume too much as you say. Eat less meat, drive less, fly less, reuse, use less energy, and simplify. If everyone bought half as much STUFF, we would be so much better off.

  7. It seems like every time we turn around the word “Green” is being tossed around. I think for the most part people understand that it’s all about marketing but we also understand the basics of it all. I like to think so at least. We try and do our part but realize there is always going to be many other ways to go green.

    • I like that companies are trying to make greener products but I don’t like how they are using it to their advantage for marketing. It really should be about the bigger picture. I think being green is a work in progress and we just have to keep making small changes as we can.

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