‘Going green’ means spending green

“Going green” is the new consumer trend sweeping the country.

Efforts to protect the environment have become a predominant issue in American policy-making, but the excessive effort to market environmentally safe products is counterproductive.

Though a national effort to restore the environment to a homeostatic state is urgent, America’s attempt to purchase its way out of environmental degradation only perpetuates the problem.

The idea is simple: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Reducing consumption, reusing products to their fullest extent and minimizing the amount of solid waste in landfills are the only means to reduce pollution and make the environment safe for future generations.

The only problem with this classic approach is that recycling acts like a dam that restricts the economic flow this country relies so heavily upon.

Rather than marketing the long-term benefits of reduced spending and cutting back on the reliance on motor vehicles, the media sells the American people the idea that production and consumption can be “green.”

Clever advertisers have attempted to give the environmental problem an easy solution: Americans need to buy more.

Companies that produce eco-friendly products claim the average citizen can gain the satisfaction of being a tree-hugging environmentalist by doing nothing more than purchasing their products.

The problem is, the majority of the products that promise cleaner and more environmentally friendly technology do not live up to their claims, according to Susan Salisbury, a Palm Beach Post staff writer.

In 2007, the firm Terra Choice Environmental Marketing, Inc. conducted a survey in which 1,018 consumer products claimed to produce 1,753 environmentally friendly effects. Salisbury concluded that all but one of the claims were somewhat misleading, if not completely false.

Products such as energy-saving fluorescent light bulbs may cut back the amount of electricity it takes to light a room, but the toxic mercury inside the bulbs is very dangerous.

According to the Department of Environmental, Food and Rural Affairs, if a fluorescent energy-saving light bulb breaks, one should leave the room immediately and stay out for at least 15 minute to avoid the toxic mercury fumes.

Hybrid cars also claim to have high environmental standards, but the production and disposal of their large batteries may be more damaging to the environment than their gasoline counterparts. 

The mining of nickel, which powers many hybrid batteries, emits sulfur dioxide — which produces acid rain.

Furthermore, the method of disposing of worn-out hybrid batteries is underdeveloped and may lead to severe environmental problems.

Americans may feel a temporary lapse in planetary destruction by relying on retail manufactures to lead the way in environmentally friendly technology, but will face similar problems in the future.

Though hybrid cars are a great step forward in reducing greenhouse gases, and eco-friendly light bulbs may reduce the nation’s energy usage, Americans need to regulate their consumption altogether.

The idea of buying a different type of product in order to solve environmental problems attracts support from its followers because it keeps Americans from having to change their consumeristic behavior.  

The freedom to buy merchandise is a treasured American tradition. This type of consumer freedom represents choice, even if that choice is only between two products.

To begin a campaign emphasizing the need to cut down on spending and reduce consumption would be to limit one of the last true freedoms the American people have left. 

The “green” trend affords the American consumer a guilt-free excuse to keep exercising uncontrolled spending.

But “going green” should not represent the color of money. To produce a better environment, America will have to reassess its capitalistic mentality.

Until Americans extend the effort to adopt a more responsible approach to consumerism, protecting the environment will be just another outlet for companies to earn huge profits off the growing concern of a nation.

Bryan Friesan is a junior majoring in mass communications.