Environmental awareness is definitely more present in the public domain than it was some years ago. Yet it seems to be as a result of a very unbalanced relationship.
At the consumer level (the majority of members of the public) is a growing understanding of the need for environmentally conscious living, and the importance of practices like recycling, buying locally-grown produce, using renewable energy, supporting smaller local companies rather than multinationals, reducing product packaging, composting etc.
At the provider level (most large companies/organisations or governments) is a growing level of deceit and obfuscation, taking advantage of the public’s changing wants and needs, for political or corporate gain, through carefully-worded promotional material, labelling and policy documents.
Hence we encounter the likes of:
- investment funds who claim to only invest your money in ‘sustainable companies’, which to them means a company whose profits, and therefore shares, will remain stable in the long-term future. This doesn’t mean the company engages in sustainable environmental practices.
- deceitful politicians, which doesn’t need any further explanation. Whatever country you live in, you would have experienced election campaigns in recent years rife with environmental exhibitionism, green manipulation and eco-promises that may or may not be kept.
- carbon trading/offsets (which I have talked about here), which is often just an excuse for polluters to keep polluting without changing their operating procedures, while gaining public and financial credit for ‘reducing emissions’.
- misinterpretation of the UN’s REDD scheme, which was set up as an ideally beneficial system to help local communities in the Majority World and reduce deforestation, but has since degenerated into nothing more than a ‘land-grab’ for the sort of bodies mentioned in the previous point. The scheme was intended to create appreciation of standing forests in developing countries (where deforestation is often the highest), by putting a higher value on intact forests than cleared ones. Developed countries are encouraged to pay their carbon offsets to developing countries, thereby giving the developing country a financial incentive to leave their trees alone. Unfortunately, a recent report has found that the noble intentions of this scheme have degenerated into a system where governments and individuals have simply snapped up vast tracts of forested land in developing countries without proper consultation with the forest’s indigenous communities. The report warns that this system will simply exclude indigenous people from their forests and “criminalise” the traditional way of life they have known for centuries. You can read the media release here and download the report here.
- the use of ‘organic’ or ‘fair trade’ labelling on (more expensive) products that have no certification or where the ‘organic’ label is redundant. The definition of organic is simply ‘of, related to, or derived from living organisms’. If you thoroughly read the label of any cosmetic or cleaning product on the shelf that uses the word organic in its name, you will often find that it is not in fact ‘certified organic’ (made or produced without the use of synthetic chemicals, GMOs, irradiation etc.). A shampoo or moisturiser manufacturer can use the same chemical-laden base as any other common non-organic product, mix in some plant-derived essential oils (that haven’t necessarily been grown organically), and label it organic.
There are many more examples like this. In a previous post I discussed a study that suggested people were more likely to buy a ‘green’ product if they thought it would make them look superior or prestigious, rather than because they actually cared about or understood the reduced environmental impact of that product.
Obviously this tendency goes much higher than ground-level consumers – taking (emotional) advantage of the environment…to deceive people into thinking we care about the environment…so they keep giving us money…so we can keep taking (physical) advantage of the environment.
Are we benefitting the environment, or ourselves? Or are we just confusing everyone and ending up back at Square One?
© Manu Saunders 2011