It’s 2014 – the age of information at our fingertips, in which most people are at least aware, consider, and hopefully act, to positively change their effect on the environment when it comes to consumption of energy and resources, how they dispose of waste, and the size of their carbon footprint. But what if your practices of goodwill to make Mother Earth happy are just as bad or (cringe) worse than your old habits? There are factors to consider before you drive another mile in that Prius or buy another ‘green’ product.
Mistake #1: Single-action bias- “I’ve done x, y, or z today– my eco-friendly work here is done!”
You may want to pat yourself on the back for throwing your glass bottle in the recycle bin, but one small practice isn’t enough – it’s the culmination of many small practices that really make a difference. Even if you recycle 100% of the time or make other valiant efforts to be eco-friendly, this is not merit to be less ethical in other ways, like drive your gas-guzzler all over town. Worse yet, most people aren’t educated about proper eco-friendly practices, especially recycling plastics. This is the most common fallacy of the eco-friendly surge; don’t let the pride you felt after buying recycled toilet paper that one time go to your head and make you forget to do it every time! Moral licensing is a phenomenon that needs to be put in its place.
Mistake #2: Falling victim to green washing tactics- “Brand Z says ‘environmentally friendly’ on the label? Now I’m a loyal consumer!”
Many companies have latched onto the growing popularity of green living by turning it into a marketing ploy: tactics like glorifying taking out one ingredient, not providing proof of their ingredient changes or practices, committing environmental trade-offs like using ‘organic’ packaging instead of local and minimally processed packaging, featuring self-made seals instead of third party approval, and falsely claiming products are up to environmental standards, are just some of the ways companies ‘green-wash’ their products. Words like ‘natural,’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ aren’t regulated strictly by a third party, so be weary of these terms. Besides health and beauty products and household items, green technology, vehicles, and even housing can give you false hope that you’re saving planet Earth from imminent self-destruction. Better think again. You can consider products with an EcoLogo and GreenSeal stamp of approval good investments, but always think twice; pay attention to ingredients, packaging, and method of disposal.
Mistake #3: The backfire effect- “Oh, x isn’t that eco-friendly? Sure it is – I’m going to keep doing it!”
Humans have the strange tendency to commit what researchers call the backfire effect when it comes to their belief systems ¬– find messages contrary to your beliefs, and you give the messages supporting your beliefs far more weight, therefore digging your heels into your original beliefs, and further disregarding opposing views despite evidence or credibility. Cognitive deficit or unexplainable habit, the reality is that some people do seemingly eco-friendly things, and although light may be shed on why it is not, they hold on to their beliefs anyway, making it even harder for them to practice a lifestyle that’s actually beneficial to the environment and health of our planet. Worse, there are those that don’t make earth friendly efforts and are openly opposed to it. Despite overwhelming evidence that it’s time for humans to do something about our consumption, depletion of resources, and carbon emissions, non-believers fill their diesel truck, throw about an abundance of non-biodegradable packaging, and buy products mass produced by children in third world countries with a smirk, and eco-friendly treehuggers only fuel their inconsiderate fire. Hopefully you’re not one of these people, so make sure you’re educated about the green practices you incorporate into your life – and don’t stubbornly continue your ways in response when newer and more effective methods surface.
The bottom line: all that glitters green is not earth-friendly gold. Don’t get caught up in buying products with cute green leaves and rustic cardboard packaging - keep it simple. Want to be really green? Consume less. Purchase fewer things whether they claim to be green or not, drive fewer miles, and use less energy and resources in general. Adopt a more Thoreau-esque point of view and think minimalism. Keep an eye out for nature by simplifying your life and reducing your consumption. Mother Nature will thank you for it, and that's the point, right?