Green Consumerism

How to educate the customer in making the green choice.

In the West, environmental education of the consumer, called as “Green Consumerism” is a well-known phenomenon. The main tenet of green consumerism is that the lay consumer must have free and easy access to information which will help her to take the greener decision in all the choices she has to make as a consumer, like for example in buying a car or an electrical appliance or investing in a firm. All the power and potentialities of the modern multi-media and the new information and communication technologies have to be marshaled to educate and inform and inspire the masses to become the green consumer. In the West there is a vast amount of literature and information on the subject. For example, e-Environmental Magazine, US, has brought out a book which provides comprehensive information and guidance to consumers on how they can lessen their impact on the environment and live in an environmentally-friendly way. This publication covers a diverse range of topics from energy efficient water heaters, food choices, natural health care, natural-fiber clothing to environmental banking. Here are some simple principles and guidelines given by environmental experts on Green Consumerism, which can be applied by any individual who is interested in creating a better planet to live in for the future generation.

(i) Reduce energy consumption wherever possible like for example, by switching off unwanted light and fans and idle electronics.
(ii) Minimize waste and recycle or reuse materials.
(iii) Minimize the consumption of products which requires large amount of non-renewable fossil fuels like coal and oil or which cannot be recycled or destructive to the environment, like for example paper which requires felling of trees, plastics, chemical fertilizers, leather goods.
(iv) Minimize traveling through carbon-emitting petrol or diesel vehicles like cars and planes; use walking or cycling for short-distances; use shared car pools.
(v) Do a little bit of green research and consultation before arriving at a buying decision.

But green consumerism based mainly on buying green products, is not likely to have any substantial impact on the environment as long as resource and energy-intensive consumption increases either due to multiplication of wants or increasing population or both. So what is needed is a decrease or slow down of the energy intensive and environmentally destructive consumption. This requires a certain amount of renunciation and sacrifice of our material desires, comforts and enjoyments. As the environmentalist George Monbiot, points out, while the central demand of environmentalism is “that we should consume less”, green consumerism promoted in the media makes the consumers “congratulate themselves on going green and carry on buying and flying as much as before”. This may create an amusing and paradoxical situation where “the whole world religiously buys green products and its carbon emission continues to grow.”

However, green consumerism, whatever may be its shortcomings, should not be unduly discouraged or harshly criticized because of two positive factors in it. First of all the principle behind green consumerism, that the lay consumer has to be awakened to green issues and act upon it with informed choices, is healthy and helpful to the growth of the environmental movement. Secondly it creates in the consuming masses a habit of listening and responding to green issues. What is needed to counteract its defects is to progressively awaken the consumer to deeper and broader issues and help her to make qualitatively better choices.

M.S. Srinivasan

The author is a Research Associate at Sri Aurobindo Society and on the editorial board of Fourth Dimension Inc. His major areas of interest are Management and Indian Culture.

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