How Green Do We Need to Be?

Last week at the LOHAS Forum (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) in Boulder, CO, many thought leaders in the sustainability and green movements talked about trends in business and personal health and sustainability.  Rather than a pep rally, most speakers called each of us to task not to sit on our laurels.

Here are some of the thought-provoking points that I heard:

1) Faith Popcorn predicted that we will move from a “me” to a “we” mentality; with an increasing desire for transparency as well as clean and safe products now that the three pillars of our society have crashed: environment, ethics, economy.

2) Dr. Alan Greene chided us for our substance abuse–of oil.

3) Stephanie Owens, Director of EPA Public Outreach, pragmatically told us that the Gulf oil spill solution will not be swift nor simple–but that 24,000 Federal employees are working on the response.

4) Philippe Cousteau, grandson of Jacques Cousteau, said that science is not determining our actions in the Gulf oil spill–wishful thinking is.

5) Charles Hambleton (producer of the movie “The Cove“) told us that the best thing we can do for the Gulf oil spill is never buy beverages in plastic bottles again.

6) Tom Laforge defended Coca-Cola’s use of plastic bottles (vs aluminum or glass) but gave us a wink-wink saying that only a collective, organized consumer voice can change companies’ policies. 

7) The NeighborAgency reminded us that we should stop calling customers “consumers” to try to reverse the mentality that we are all entitle to unchecked consumption.

8) Suzanne Shelton of  The Shelton Group told us that the #1 way that mainstream customers determine if a company is green is if they recycle–and that action will soon become table stakes before customers look for more impactful behaviors. 

9) Alec Loorz showed us that you don’t have to be an adult to take action.  He founded Kids vs Global Warming when he was 12 years old.

10) Bryan Welch, publisher at Ogden Publications, reminded us that we have no idea how to drive an economy without population growth. (Whatever happend to the Zero Population Growth movement of the 60s/70s???)

11) Dr. Elliot Dacher took a more introspective approach when he said that we “can’t be sustainable by doing; it has to come by being.”

12) And my favorite activist of the conference Joel Makower told us that most companies he counsels ask “how green do we need to be?”  He translated this into “doing less bad is not the same as doing good.” Our “random acts of greenness” aren’t enough–we have to come up with solutions that incorporate speed and scale. 

There was no greenwashing allowed by these speakers.  “Green,” a term that is rapidly losing meaning, must be better than the alternatives.  Customers don’t want to pay more or sacrifice their lifestyle in order to preserve the planet or their personal futures.  The biggest motivation to change to more sustainable solutions is a personal connection to an environmental problem. 

Let’s all try to move beyond proclaiming that we’re “saving the planet” by handing out cloth totebags.  Instead, let’s do what 16-year old Alec Loorz exhorted all of us to do:  “live as if the future mattered.”

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