Posts Tagged ‘greenwashing’

The Crankypants Guide to a Green Holiday

This is my idea of a Christmas tree. Photo credit: Humboldthead

Around this time of year, my Twitter feed explodes with things like, “Eco-friendly tree decorations!” and “Greenest stocking stuffers!” and “How to make eco-friendly tinsel out of Capri-Sun wrappers!” It’s all well-intentioned (or mostly; some of it is still trying to sell you stuff you don’t need and will never want), but at the same time, I have to wonder: how green can you really make the highest-impact, most wasteful holiday of the year by replacing things you don’t need with slightly lower impact versions of things you don’t need? 


Uh. Sorry. I think my Grinch is showing. But tongue firmly in cheek, I came up with a list of revised suggestions for a [more] eco-responsible[-ish] holiday. You know, for grouchpuss greenies. Extreme? Nah…

  • Be poor if you can possibly help it. (And if you can’t, I have to think that you’re not trying hard enough.) Poverty is the single best way to cut down on decorations, gift-giving, traveling, and impulsive holiday buys, like the bouncy inflatable Santa my neighbors down the street have. I’m finding that it also forces me to be more creative. Instead of buying stuff this year, I’m reusing, doing without, or coming up with creative workarounds and unusual presents (dress altering services, anyone?). Also, I hope you really, really like my pottery.
  • Stop traveling to see people you don’t like. Sharing DNA is not a good reason to spend your time or your carbon dioxide on people you can’t stand. I don’t recommend this as a networking strategy, but it works amazingly well if you want some extra time and peace for the holidays. And in the same vein:
  • Stop buying presents for people you don’t like. With regards to the people we don’t know well or like much, yet still feel obliged toward…can’t we just come to a non-gift agreement already? A plate of cookies and a card, maybe? A handshake to imply goodwill without the transfer of material goods?
  • Put off inessentials until the last minute. If you’ve waited till now to get up your Christmas lights, you might as well not do it at all because it’s so much effort for a two week show. I’ve had finals up until yesterday, so I’ve been putting off everything, with the end result that I am not likely to bake cookies, write cards, or make a mix CD this year. It’s okay. Every couple years is fine.
  • Try a non-meat-based holiday dinner. Taste-wise, Tofurky is somewhere between a rubber tire and a salt lick. But if you’re already feeling glutted (Thanksgiving was only a month ago) or guilty about the impact of your holiday ham, there are lots of tasty, meatless, or low-meat alternative holiday dinners. How about pumpkin and sage pot pies? A mushroom and tarragon pate? I have my eye on a couple of veggie holiday recipes to try this year.
  • Draw a line between doing things out of tradition and doing things that are meaningful to you. As the daughter of an angry ex-Catholic schoolgirl mother and a vaguely Confucian father, I can’t say that my family ever went all out for Christmas. But we did do the tree, the presents, the holiday ham. As a tree lover, I can’t bear the thought of cutting down a live tree just for decoration. As a tree hugger, I can’t see myself getting a fake tree. And as a vegetarian, I’m not about to go for the Christmas ham. So that leaves presents (but not many of them, because I’m poor), which I genuinely enjoy taking the time to choose or make, wrap, and give. Kevin and I also like to go for a drive in the redwoods on Christmas day, which isn’t very green, but has become a tradition that we’re willing to swap out others for.

My bottom line is the same as it usually is. Cut out the stuff that doesn’t actively, actually make you happy. Enjoy the stuff that does. And don’t let social expectations bully you into doing otherwise. Happy non-denominational winter holiday of choice!

I’m off school until the end of January, which is exciting because chemistry gobbled up all my brain bandwidth and left me gibbering about acid-base equilibria and stoichiometry and volumetric flasks. (You know this if you follow me on Twitter.) I have a few posts that I just haven’t had the brain space to write, so I’ll get those up and catch up with your blogs and resume normal functions until the next semester starts. Hope you’ve been well!

Green Lessons from My [Cheap] Asian Parents

The green movement is often seen as a white movement. A white, Whole-Foods-loving, Prius-driving, upper middleclass, leftwing movement. Which strikes me as sad because your ethnicity, car, and politics have nothing to do with being a concerned earthling who doesn’t want to see humans screw up a perfectly good planet.

Here’s something you might not have known about me: I’m green(ish), but I’m not white. My parents are Chinese immigrants, which makes me first generation Chinese-American. But I’ve never considered being Asian an essential part of my identity and am what you might call white-washed (English major? Check. Has been known to eat fried rice with a spoon? Check. Please don’t tell my parents.)

Still, when Lori from Groovy Green Livin tweeted an article about being green and black, I started to think about my non-white upbringing. Without ever being treehuggers, my parents raised my sister and me in a pretty low impact way. (When we were growing up, we thought of it more as skinflint-y, but the bottom line is what counts, right?) I think Americans, including the green movement within America, could actually learn a lot from simpler, more cost-conscious immigrant lifestyles. None of this ‘eco’ recycled plastic cupcake holder crap, please.

So here, in no particular order, are some lessons my [cheap] Asian parents can teach us about being green.

Lessons about food:

  • Being able to cook is a critical life skill. Processed food is carbon intensive, produces a lot of packaging, and wastes a lot of money. It’s not good for your own body or the environment. Thanks to my mother, I grew up on mostly homecooked meals and still regard eating out and packaged foods as an indulgence. (See an older post, Lower your impact: learn how to cook.)
  • Meat isn’t the centerpiece of a meal. Homecooked Asian meals are mostly about lots of different seasonal vegetables with small amounts of meat. If you go to a Chinese supermarket and watch what people buy, you’ll see mounds of leafy greens and fresh vegetables on the conveyer belt with proportionately tiny amounts of meat and packaged foods. The traditional scarcity and expense of meat makes many Asian cuisines a lot lower impact than meat-centric western meals.
  • Backyard gardens can produce surprising amounts of delicious food. Our yard was tiny, but I grew up plucking raspberries straight off the vine and polishing dusky plums on my shirt and eating them while they were still warm from the sun. I learned what fresh produce should taste like and where it came from.
  • Lawns are a waste of water and space. See above.

Lessons from around the house:

  • Function is more important than form. Our coffee table was a Goodwill reject, a graceless rectangular block of black press wood with chipped corners.  (It was free.) Our dinnerware never matched. I survived 18 years of shag brown carpet turning green from the sun, and I came out fine. Ironically, both my sister and I appreciate aesthetics and design now and like things to be both functional and beautiful, but we learned the difference between the two and choose things that don’t need upgrading every couple of years.
  • Line-dried clothes smell better and save electricity. My mother line dried even in the winter, as long as it wasn’t raining. Our laundry line was jerry-rigged by my dad. Line drying might have been a chore, but it had its own quiet pleasures.
  • Water is money. California was in a drought for part of my childhood, but even before that, my parents were water conscious. We saved the clean, cold water from running the tap for a bath or shower to water plants or flush the toilet.
  • Knowing how to sew is not anti-feminist. There’s something to be said for a mother who could mend, hem, sew Halloween costumes, and repurpose worn out clothes. She taught me, and I’m grateful.
Lessons about the car:
  • Car trips should be minimized and consolidated. I can’t remember ever making impromptu trips to the grocery store for a single ingredient. My mother, a talented strategist, made lists, gathered coupons, and plotted routes before ever heading out the door.
  • Stick shift cars get better mileage than automatic transmission. My dad’s car was a blue, budget Toyota Tercel with stupendous gas mileage (comparable to some hybrids) and no creature comforts whatsoever. For my parents, a car was something that got you from A to B, not a status symbol.
Random other lessons:
  • Don’t have more kids than you can afford college educations for. The vast majority of Asian parents I know — the first generation to have access to good contraception — have one or two kids. A handful have three. While I’m pretty sure the cost of higher education was a major deterrent, as it turns out, not having kids, or having fewer kids, makes the biggest dent in your total environmental impact.
  • There’s a big difference between what you want and what you need. My sister and I were not deprived, but our toys were modest, and gifts were generally reserved for special occasions. Neither of us had a cell phone or personal computer until college.

Ironically, I rebelled against a number of my parents’ teachings and only saw, years later, that they made a lot of sense from an ecological as well as economical perspective. The advantage of growing up as the daughter of immigrants is that I know for a fact that living this way is possible. Living simply, frugally, seasonally wasn’t several generations ago for me; it was my own childhood. And despite a brief detour into good old American consumerism, maybe it paved the way for a greener adulthood for me. I’d like to see immigrants brought into the green movement. They clearly have a lot to offer — ideas, techniques, mentalities, inspiration.

What do you think about the whiteness of the green movement? How do you think we can open it up to more cultures and ethnicities?

Photo credit: Laundry Day by Roy Montgomery

13 Reasons You Can’t Afford to Shop

Shopping is an expenditure of time, energy, and money. It’s easy to forget that all of these are limited resources, and choosing to shop is choosing not to do something else, often something more enjoyable and fulfilling.  Although shopping may not be the worst thing we can do to the planet, it’s probably the eco-sin we commit most often, with the least amount of consciousness. (Greenwashers, you’re not helping here.) 

For your benefit — and mine — I’ve compiled a list of reasons why shopping isn’t a good use of your finite time and energy. (Kevin asks me to offer the caveat that not all of these will apply to you. But I’m pretty sure at least some of them will.) Bookmark it for the next time the urge to shop strikes!

  1. Shopping actually makes you pretty tired, cranky, and/or indecisive. (You tend to forget this inconvenient truth until you’re already in the middle of it.)
  2. You have too much stuff already.
  3. You can’t remember the last time you watched clouds move across the sky, sat by the ocean and listened to the rhythm of the tides, or went for a walk in the woods.
  4. You keep meaning to call your friend/sister/brother/mother but haven’t been able to find the time.
  5. You have books full of recipes, crafts, or music you want to try and have never gotten around to.
  6. Last year’s garden never got planted.
  7. You passed on the last interesting-sounding workshop, class, or community group because you didn’t think you had the time. You probably do, if you cut out all unnecessary shopping (and the internet addiction.)
  8. It’s been months since you read a book.
  9. Your novel/screenplay/painting has been ‘in progress’ for the last ten years. You’re starting to get embarrassed whenever anyone asks how it’s going.
  10. You’ve been slacking on volunteering at your favorite non-profit, even though you love doing it.
  11. Your pet is starting to prefer your spouse because you’re so rarely at home.
  12. You’re starting to realize that you’d prefer a massage to new crap to clutter up your closets.
  13. You haven’t sat down and really spent time with your spouse/best friend in months.

In fact, there might just be two reasons to shop:

  1. None of the above applies to you.
  2. You genuinely need something.
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