Greening Friends…By Buying Stuff?

For the past year, I’ve been surreptitiously trying to get the people around me to be greener. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they don’t realize that a lot of their choices directly impact the earth. OK, and maybe they don’t care enough to go back to their cars for reusable bags when they forget them. But at some level, they do care. My job is to facilitate and encourage whatever green tendencies they already have.

Along with discreetly dropping little tidbits of info over dinner (‘Hey, Mom, did you know that ground beef now has ammonia in it?’) and leaving copies of Food, Inc. and The World Without Us around, I’ve taken to buying stuff for my dear friends who would make greener choices if they were more convenient. A Sigg for a friend who used to use bottled water; a purse-sized folding reusable bag for another friend who can never remember to fish her bags out of the trunk; a pretty ceramic mug for a co-worker who used to go through a styrofoam cup a day.

To my surprise and delight, I see my friends using these greener alternatives all the time, even if they aren’t hardcore greenies. (Neither am I — you can replace my flush toilet with a composting toilet over my cold, dead body.)  Anyway, thanks to these alternatives, a significant number (growing daily) of plastic bags, bottles, and styrofoam cups have not been used. Go friends! And go me!

But here’s where I stop patting myself on the back. I got people to go green[er] by… buying them stuff? Isn’t the whole green movement anti-consumption, anti-consumerism? How green is it really to persuade friends to go green by shopping for them?

I don’t know the answer to that one.  My green gifts are almost always purchased new. The Sigg was probably somewhat sustainably made and recyclable; the others are not. In their long lifetimes as reusables, they will certainly have a smaller impact than the disposable items they replaced. But they still have an impact that I could have done more to minimize.

After thinking about this for a bit, I came up with some ideas to minimize the impact of shopping for green goods, which, flaws aside, I continue to see as a viable way to influence other people’s behaviour for the better.

  • Buy used whenever possible. A dented, dirty Sigg might not be something I would want to buy used, but I could easily have bought a nice used mug for my coworker. Instead, I went for the shiny new one because it was pretty and cheap. I realized after I bought it that it was made in China. Doh.
  • Buy local whenever possible. If you have to shop for green goods, supporting local craftsmen and businesses puts the money directly back into your community and into the hands of people who are working to make the world a little greener.
  • Buy responsibly made. If you can’t do either of the above, look for a reputable company that takes measures to use resources responsibly and gives back to the environment.
  • Make your own. OK, making your own aluminum bottle or mug might be a little tricky. But a reusable shopping bag or lunch bag? Not too hard. And think how impressed your friend will be with something you made yourself!

What are your experiences with getting friends to go greener? Do you find that the buying stuff approach is effective?

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