Why the Greener-Than-Thou Attitude Needs to Die

A few weeks ago, Huffpost published an article debating whether men or women were the greener gender. Apparently, it’s a fairly heated topic: the article concluded that women do more ‘little picture’ things like make greener consumer decisions, while men do more ‘big picture’ things but don’t sweat the small stuff. Cue more debate.

We’re losing species by the minute, experiencing our hottest year on record, and turning the ocean into a giant oil slick, and this is the kind of thing we spend our energy and brain power on? Really? Really?  Of all the things we could be doing, we’re squabbling over a totally unsubstantiable generalization that makes exactly zero positive difference and promotes division among people who need most to be united.


I’m not immune to the allure of green labels and ranks. On the contrary: I took a well-intentioned ‘How Green Are You?’ quiz the other day and was half pleased, half peeved, that I achieved ‘impressively green’ status. (This blog post was almost titled ‘Impressively Green, My Ass.’) Impressively green for being vegetarian (for non-environmental reasons)? Impressively green for not having children (because I don’t want them)? Impressively green for switching dish detergent brands? My ass. The only thing this label does is entitle me to smug self-congratulation and condescension towards others (“Oh, you’re unimpressively green?”) when I should be looking for more ways to improve.  

‘Greenness’ is a highly artificial and subjective label. It is composed of making more sustainable and conscious choices, but there are so many ways we could act sustainably and so many different ways we could measure progress that basing our egos on our particular shade of ‘green’ — and worse, turning it into mean-spirited competition or satisfied self-righteousness — is just inexcusable.

Mean green competition doesn’t get us anywhere. It’s conversation that has potential. As a misanthrope, I hate to admit it, but talking to people has been the best and most inspiring way for me to push myself to make better choices and to accept that everyone’s path to sustainability looks a little — or a lot — different.


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by shortystylee on 06/29/2010 at 17:53

    I took the quiz and apparently I am “adventurously green.” Points off probably since I’m in an apartment and therefore don’t know a lot about the efficiency of where I live.

    Anyways, I know when you said label you are talking about the overall green label given to a person, but when you look at it, some of the biggest ways to be green is not to buy products labeled as green but to find alternatives to buying these things. Such as, even line drying is “greener” than an energy star dryer. It takes a lot of the greenwashing out of it. You don’t need special ‘green’ cleaning products, you need baking soda, vinegar, and lemons 🙂



    • Posted by ailanna on 06/30/2010 at 21:03

      Very true — I didn’t mean to imply that being green was a measure of how environmentally you shopped. To me, it’s about reducing impact. Making your own or doing without is almost always the better way to go.


  2. Posted by Emily on 06/30/2010 at 13:09

    Great point, shortystylee. Buying products in general is not green, it is capitalism and consumerism. The trendy yuppies in my community think that they are being green because they can afford to buy all of their products from our experience local Co-Op and other ‘eco-friendly’ stores and companies. Most of these yuppies have so much money to spend because they work 9-5 jobs. What are these jobs? Most likely these people are working for companies and corporations that are NOT green. The whole premise of a corporation is to use and abuse people and the environment to make profit.

    The local green yuppies in my community look down on me because I do not work for a company or a corporation. I am not ‘white-collared’ and not not own a home. I work minimally, therefore, I have little to spend. I share an efficient VW with my partner and we share a small, efficient apartment. I do not have money to blow at the Co-Op or on green products. I try to make and grow things that I want or need.

    No worries, ailanna, I’m not claiming to be greener than the yuppies or any one else, just saying that there are many different ways and lifestyles that have low impacts on the planet.


    • Posted by ailanna on 06/30/2010 at 20:59

      I completely agree that buying stuff is almost never the greenest choice we could make, and I salute you for living so off the beaten track. I’m more than a little envious of your garden, by the way. I have somehow managed to get aphids on an indoor parsley plant. Oh. Dear.


  3. Posted by shortystylee on 06/30/2010 at 13:34

    I’m lucky enough to live in a town where it is actually easy sometimes to make green choices (how you commute, where you shop, etc). We have the giant Whole Foods, which is mostly our yuppie place, and I’ve started going to our co-op instead since they have what I want: great bulk bins for everything at WF + pasta and spices, items locally sourced, and employees that are not uppity. And in the end, I’m not going to roll out fresh pasta every time I want spaghetti, so I try to make the best choice about where to buy it and the packaging that it comes in.

    Unfortunately, I feel like all of my effort is for naught much of the time since I do work for not the most ‘eco-friendly’ company. I’m in metro-Detroit (Ann Arbor), it’s all automotive, and I work in sales for a company that makes plastic/metal auto-parts for all sorts of car companies. I try to do my best outside of work to make up for this, and I run my office’s recycling program.



  4. Not too long ago, I took that quiz. I was wicked green, scoring 9 out of a possible 10. I’m vegan. I do have a garden, work from home, I make all my skin care/cleaning products., was raised to conserve simply because it was the practical thing to do. That carried over into my adult years.

    I would have had issues with that article too, since I’m happy to see anyone making environmentally choices. It shouldn’t be an us vs. them type of deal, great post!


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