Cloudy Economy Silver Lining

An interesting article in the NY Times by Steven Kurutz this past October ties our continuously down economy to changes in the green “market”.  People who care about the environment aren’t able to splurge on green products as much any more.  Sales of green goods are down and tough choices are made before people rush out and snag the latest eco-item.

While the article frames these changes as the perhaps unfortunate necessity of hard times, I think this news might not be all that bad.

Kurutz describes people making the switch from Whole Foods produce to farmers markets, from Method to home-made cleaning materials and just plain doing without.  A sense of deprivation may be unpleasant but the shift away from purportedly green over consumerism strikes me as a good thing.

For one thing, it cuts down on the amount of “green” advertizing and product pushing that splashes across the eco blogs and magazines I, personally, follow.

“Had you come on [Treehugger] four years ago, before the recession, you would have seen a post every day for a new bamboo shirt or bamboo sandals,” he said. “We do almost none of that stuff anymore, because people don’t have the money to buy it.”

…  Instead, Mr. Alter said, “We’re writing a lot more about cooking, politics, riding bikes.”

Jill Fehrenbacher, 34, the founder and editor in chief of Inhabitat, a popular green design blog, said she has cut back on product articles as well, a shift her readers all but demanded. “In the last few years,” she said, “we’ve seen a real anti-consumer pushback.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Home cooked meals, civic engagement and transportation without petrochemicals are going to improve the world in a lot of ways that the next green product probably won’t.  The only surprise to me is … that people are surprised by this.  Or that the article seems to be:

But despite forgoing things like green cleaning products and organic food, Ms. Peters said, she thinks [that, by renting a smaller home, living close to work and school and consuming less] she is living in a more sustainable way than she did before. “I think the economy has forced people to be greener,” she said. “Even if they didn’t intend to.”

Yes, and …?

Mr. Quilty has come up with his own accommodation: to afford grass-fed meat, he buys fruit and vegetables at a farmers’ market, which “is much cheaper than Whole Foods,” he said.

Again, that’s an improvement not a sacrifice.  Whole Foods isn’t a magic bullet.  It sells organic food and fair trade chocolate, sure, but it also transports that food a long way, pays its workers little while refusing to let them organize and pushes a conservative agenda.  The farmers market is a hands down win, environmentally.

“Like most Americans,” she said, “I had the mind-set that if I wanted something new, I could run out and get it.”

And now you don’t?  How is this a bad thing?

And all of this pertains to architecture as well.   Actually its not that big a leap – buying the latest high tech gadget for your house, or even building a brand new eco-home bristling with energy saving devices and eco-tech might not be the best way to live lightly on the earth.  Investing in insulation for the house you have or simply deciding not to renovate to the latest fashion (however “green”) and fill a dumpster with demolished cabinetry on its way to the landfill is a better thing to do.  Think small.  Reuse and reduce before you recycle.  And stay away from the bamboo sandals.

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