What Happens When “Buying Green” Isn’t Enough?

One of the most striking aspects of the discussion surrounding nutrition and “buying green” was about how we are lulled into a false sense of security and fulfillment based on the products we consume. In Michael Pollan’s book, In Defense of Food, and in this article by Jennifer McNulty, the idea of how we consume is explored and there are significant connections to be drawn. For example, Pollan talks about how the western diet has made people gradually less healthy, but despite the obvious warning signs westerners continue to consume the same general diet. Instead of a substantive dietary change, we substitute foods into our diet that are advertised as being more nutritious, or we subscribe to food-isms that we believe make us healthier. In short, we could be healthier by eating more whole foods and less processed products, but instead we eat things that have been processed more because of their perceived nutritional value.

This is very similar to how McNulty discusses “buying green” in her article. We are satisfied by buying so called “green” products, and in doing so we feel no further obligation to do anything for the benefit of the environment we live in. I think a lot of this comes down to the marketing used to sell these products to consumers. Using the same communication and marketing techniques employed to sell any product, we know that consumers will buy products that differentiate themselves in a positive way, and that make the consumer feel good about themselves in the process. This is exactly what is happening here in the marketing used to advertise “green” products.

Environmental and nutritional issues face the same issues as any that arise in politics: collective action. Just as an average citizen feels engaged and civically satisfied by voting, they subsequently don’t take the time or effort before and after to advocate for positions they care about. Similarly, we are guilty as consumers of slipping into complacency, telling ourselves that our buying, recycling, or composting habits absolve us of all environmental sin. Both as voters and consumers, it is also easy to tell ourselves that our own small contribution won’t make a difference, and therefore it is futile to contribute at all. We sit comfortable knowing that surely other people are working hard on this issue, and it will be resolved positively in the end. However, this mentality perpetuated across an entire generation is one of the greatest threats to our health and environment.

For this reason I am working to challenge myself and you to do more. Whatever you are doing now, try to do one additional thing to be more environmentally responsible and more personally health conscious. Then do one additional thing after that, and another from there. The critical part is to never feel like we are doing “enough.” If we can create a collective societal itch to do more, then that is when real change can occur. For in reality, it is in the moment that we think we are doing enough that we fail to make meaningful progress.

2 thoughts on “What Happens When “Buying Green” Isn’t Enough?

  1. Matt Robinson

    I think that this is very interesting and I completely agree with you. One thing that I always think is interesting about our system is our position as consumers and how that influences our behavior. We always have the power to vote with our dollars, thus buying “green” products is an effective way of changing how industries behave, in theory. Buying power can serve as collective action, in a way…However, when companies realize they how much they might be able to trick us, through things such as “greenwashing”, then we just become subjects of clever marketing; which I think McNulty also points at. Not to mention, not everyone has the economic leverage to spend more on a “vote”. All the more reason, as you said “to do more. Anyways, good post. I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Rori Linda Kirkpatrick

    Thank you for your thoughts on buying green products in lieu of genuine caring for the environment. I agree that this is not by any means a solution to major problems our world faces. I believe that recycling and caring about certain products one buys can be important but I definitely agree that there is much more that can be done. That being said, I’m aware that it would be naive to think that everyone can just all of the sudden deeply care about what they are purchasing or even have the privilege to consider that. I think a major problem lies within the corporations that are producing these “green” products that aren’t actually green. Buying fake certifications to advertise their product as “green” is ridiculous and should not be tolerated on a governmental level (I believe). I think the first thing people should do who are looking to purchase green is research their product to be certain it is not false advertising.


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