As the holidays draw nearer, I expect that we will be barraged by lists of green holiday presents: presents that are recyclable or recycled, that reduce water or energy use, that are made from organic fabrics and fairly traded.
Speaking for myself, I love browsing the Rainforest Site shop. I think it has a genuinely quirky and cool collection of (somewhat) green items whose proceeds go to save the rainforest. I drool over the tree-motif, fairly traded fabric shopping bags (see right). I linger over the Roman glass jewelry. I consider doing all my holiday shopping there, irrespective of the interests and tastes of the poor folks on my gift list.
Surprisingly, the site’s association with saving rainforests tempts me to spend and buy more than I would otherwise do. The guilt I’ve come to associate with shopping vanishes because it suddenly has a good cause. It’s also harder for me to keep in mind the William Morris quote I shop by: “Have nothing in your home that you do not either know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.” (This is the perfect compromise mentality for fellow materialists/aesthetes who can’t quite give up consumerism.)
But shopping is pretty much never a green activity, even if it’s for a good cause, even if you’re buying green goods, even if you only buy things you consider beautiful.
Anything you purchase has a certain cost in energy, carbon, resources, and labor. If you can get away without buying something new, it’s almost always going to be the greener move. It’s true that you can make better or greener purchasing decisions, and that those organic sheets or recycled plastic bags are a better choice than their non-green counterpart. But you’ll still be using resources and energy that you could preserve by simply reusing what you already have. (Seriously, does any of us need more fabric shopping bags?)
Today I saw a device that you can hook up to your car that will measure how much gas you’re wasting and how to reduce usage, and I wondered: is the total amount of gas being saved equivalent to the resources and pollution generated by developing, producing, and distributing this totally unnecessary gadget? Is there such a thing as a truly green gadget?
Being truly green probably isn’t very good for the economy in the short run, but our current consumer based economy isn’t sustainable in the long run, so we might as well nix the idea that we can buy ourselves to eco-friendly sainthood. Ideally, buying green would mean not only buying greener goods, but buying fewer of them and using them more wisely. Consider it your holiday present to the Earth.
Oh, and as for presents? Why not contribute to someone’s solar power system fund?