The Dumbing Down of Green

In the past week, I came across two comments by completely different people about how sucky/snobby/discouraging it is when people say it’s hard to be green. Given the name of my blog, I took this maybe a little personally and began to wonder if I was going about marketing greenness in a completely ass-backward manner. Is my blog discouraging people from going greener? Is this an identity crisis I sense sneaking up on me? Uh oh.

On one hand, I agree that we need to be encouraging even very small, easy steps towards more sustainable living. Everybody starts somewhere; even if it’s just recycling your disposable plastic water bottles, hey, that could lead to buying a reusable and then realizing that other disposables in your life can be swapped out for reusables. There is no room for snobbery in this movement. However green we think we are, we could all be doing more. Full stop.

On the other hand, the problems of climate change, fresh water shortages, and loss of biodiversity are so enormous and so immediate that I am very reluctant to dumb down ‘being green’ to the level of small, easy, minimally effective things we can do, like changing a lightbulb or switching to a reusable glass drinking straw. Even if recognizing and taking responsibility for the full problem is daunting, isn’t the first step to solving any problem to identify it? How productive is it really to 1) trivialize the issue and/or 2) overemphasize small actions that make little or no difference?

There’s room for both approaches, of course. The ‘being green is easy’ approach is fine to start with and will certainly attract more new people than the ‘crap, we’re really screwing ourselves over’ one. My problem with the ‘being green is easy’ attitude is that it doesn’t necessarily encourage us to try harder, do more. It’s limited unless it leads to a realization of the full scope of the issue and a desire to do more about it. 

Ultimately, I can’t quite bring myself to endorse being green[er] as easy. Some of the changes are easy, sure. But the attitude change — the ability to see all resources as acutely limited and act accordingly, the willingness to see how interconnected we are and take responsibility — now that’s harder. I think a massive collective attitude change will be essential to making any significant dent in the problem. It may not happen; it certainly won’t happen as quickly as we need it to. Judging by the sense of panic I feel about giving up my car, it won’t be easy, either. I’m hopeful that encouraging people to think about their decisions as I detail my own quirky foray into greenness is ultimately going to be more effective than claiming it’s easy.

And besides, it just feels more honest.

What are your thoughts? Is it easy or hard to be green? Do I need a marketing overhaul?


19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by karen on 03/09/2011 at 19:13

    I see what you are saying and I hear the sentiment in between the lines. However, being “green’ shouldn’t be an option. It should be the lifestyle that everyone should be able take on with ease. Yes, it might start with a light bulb change and it might start with reading the recycling information booklet to learn what you can recycle and what you can’t (that’s how I stumbled upon my green journey) but you gotta start somewhere, right?

    There’s is no answer to “is it easy?” or “is it hard?”

    The answer should be you have to…even if it means starting with changing one incandescent light bulb to a CFL. And pretty soon, you will be looking at spending $80 for a LED bulb and you do it without blinking. Because you realize, you just have to.


    • Good point! Environmental awareness has a way of creeping into everything so that we end up doing things that, a year or two ago, would have struck us as absurd. (Make my own bread?? No way!) And I agree that a basic part of being human should include taking responsibility for how we treat the planet. Unfortunately, as biological creatures, I just don’t think we’re really wired to think that way.


  2. It’s not always easy, but the challenge is a worthwhile one.

    Great post…


  3. Interesting dilemma. You don’t need a marketing overhaul-you are right on. There are certainly situations where it does feel easy to make those small changes, but there are many instances where “going green” is quite challenging. I think you’re right-the challenging piece is maintaining the attitude and awareness that comes along with the change. The understanding that we are making an impact on the earth and on others-it’s challenging to always keep this perspective. I think being green has taken on so many definitions for various people that it’s hard to call it simple or challenging. I know, from following your posts, that your definition of green and mine jibe-and it’s not easy to be green.


  4. Green definitely encompasses a broad range of meaning for different people — vegans, locavores, minimalists, etc. I’m trying not to prioritize my own take on green, which has to do with mindfulness, but it’s surprisingly difficult! Thanks for affirming that I don’t need to undergo a name change. 😉


    • Posted by karen on 03/10/2011 at 10:26

      Maybe you can do a “strikethrough” or bracket the word “not” and let people decide where they are with this journey. Because like ice cream flavors, people have different preferences. It doesn’t make you any less effective as a blogger but at least it will include everyone and no alienate one type or another.


  5. Jennifer, get out of my head! 🙂

    In a way, it’s really easy to be green. We can scrutinize virtually everything we do over the course of one day and find a really simple way of greening that action.

    On the other hand, it’s exhausting when your goal isn’t “greening” so much as it is “leaving the planet whole enough that future generations can live well”. That’s one hell of a burden. It’s funny how there are people who will hear about scary environmental issues and immediately want to do what they can to help, and there are also people who couldn’t care less! Sadly, the latter tend to be the ones at the top of the biggest corporations in the world, the ones that are doing so much of the polluting. Talk about an uphill battle.

    IMO, you don’t need a marketing overhaul. We need lots of people to write about these issues, taking every possible perspective. I value yours, and I know I’m not the only one.


    • Aww, thanks, Andrea! You’re right. The short term goals are easy. It’s not hard at all to bring reusable bags, buy organic produce, walk to the store instead of drive, etc. It’s the long term goal that makes you step back and go, “Whoa…” But I think it’s important to keep that goal in mind, because it has a way of reaching out to the little things you do.


  6. It’s easy to make small changes and hard to make significant ones. Sometimes I feel like the little things I do are slightly useless in the grand scheme of things, but hopefully the small steps give us the momentum to take larger steps. Honestly, I think only public policy (national and international) will save us — and if you think going green as an individual is hard, the task of enacting and enforcing green standards at the international level is, well, herculean.


    • I know they don’t make a significant impact, but my small green changes are still worthwhile for symbolic reasons, everyday reminders of my commitment (if nothing else!). While I agree the government needs to get on board, and fast, I also still have some hope that changing enough individual attitudes will give us enough power to force world governments to pay attention. Optimistic? Oh yeah. But probably more likely than seeing change start within the government itself. Thanks for stopping by!


  7. Great post Jennifer!
    No it’s not easy to be green (I hear you about the car – same here!) but every big change starts with small ones so…
    Also, we vote with our money – when more and more people start choosing green living, the government and the big companies will follow.
    Keep writing your blog 🙂


    • A lot of people in the US think Europe is easy to get around in without a car, but when I was in Reading, I was a 30 minute walk away from the nearest grocery store. Downhill on the way there, uphill (laden with groceries) all the way back. I missed my car that year for sure. My car now is older and will probably die within the next five years, so that (if not sooner) will be a good time to look into car sharing and biking.

      I agree, consumers do have power, but they need to be educated first! I think the government is going to have to kick it up a notch if we’re going to make fast, effective progress against huge corporations that are trashing the planet in the name of serving us better.


  8. I always love your posts; they really make me stop and think. What I love most of all, of course, is that I agree with most of what you write! Your guest post this week on Reduce Footprints was excellent and I love this one too. I do tend to ‘simplify’ green because I want to encourage people to give it a go. But I do also feel that we need to really step things up. George Monbiot reckons we need to reduce our carbon footprints by 90% if we stand any hope at all and I reckon he is probably right – but how do you share that message without frightening people and overwhelming them into not even starting? It’s a delicate balancing act.


    • Thanks, Mrs. Green! I’m flattered. And you’ve touched on a real problem — our environmental woes are now so large and so near that that the truth causes despair and the ‘easy’ version doesn’t result in nearly enough change. (And both, sadly enough, often result in denial and refusal to change.) Fortunately, I think it’s easier to wrap your head around the full problem once you’ve taken those first steps into green. Maybe the transition between small green steps and working to fix the big picture needs to be made clearer, somehow. I wish I had all the answers!


  9. I think you are going to attract far more people to your blog by resonating with the fact that it’s not easy for most people to go green. You are not a complainer. You are committed to being greener and simply telling the truth about the challenges. These challenges happen on all different levels including the very deep and subtle. For example, the loss and fear you are feeling about giving up your car. Yes, we do need to bite the bullet but it’s not easy. If it was easy, people would already be doing it.

    I for one appreciate your honest approach.


    • Thank you, Sandra! My experience is that going green starts with the easy things and then becomes a series of increasingly tougher challenges, conundrums, and contradictions — each of which is worth thinking about, even (or especially) if I am not totally successful. I’ve started to realize that my reluctance to give up the car has to do with a totally irrational affection for it, as for a pet rather than a machine. I have some more thinking to do on that subject!


  10. Posted by david on 03/15/2011 at 16:32

    Fact is, it is hard. And the reason being green is hard is because our society trumpets and heralds all that is excess. From hamburgers the size of a pizza to tv shows drooling over the excess of a celebrity and their “crib”. We are ingrained with “more is not enough”.

    Change will really start when it is “cool” or more socially acceptable to be green. There has been a tremendous amount of recent press on going “veg” in your diet. A plethora of books on the subject are becoming bestsellers in their categories. Recent events (Japan & the implosion of their nuclear reactors) are another. But I feel the grassroots movement will be with the youth. My niece (early teens) is vegetarian. Her age group is not so ingrained with “that’s the way we’ve always done it” that they aren’t willing to change. For them being green is easy.


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