Thursday, 3 May 2012

Can we be ‘green enough’?

The name of this website is green24. The implication, perhaps, is that one can be truly ‘Green’ with a capital ‘g’ only by adopting an environmental outlook and then applying it constantly and perfectly – 24 hours per day, every day. To analyse this, let’s first accept that the idea of ‘green’ is valid and that it signifies an approach that is mindful of the environmental consequences of action, and which seeks to minimise those effects. It’s a useful code word, a concise and unmistakable way of marking a product, business or activity which prioritises this philosophy. “Green” is a theme, not a directive. 
But the idea of doing green ‘24’ is slightly different; it asks how much greenness one is managing to squeeze into a day, rather than questioning how environmentalist ideas can be extended and refined. In everyday parlance, it’s placing a long term focus on the green approach.

If only we could escape the tired metaphors of environmentalism’s detractors: If ‘green’ is really a religion, an embedding approach is fundamental, the cult of asking, ‘Am I green enough?’ in the stereotypical terms of how much I’ve recycled, how far I’ve cycled and how much local food I eat. Instead, we need a green ethic (with a small g) which asks, ‘How can I think of x in terms of sustainability?’ For example, how can we bring an environmentally-conscious approach to investment, or how can we influence policies or developments to be more sustainable? After all, thinking green is not straightforward and requires compromise. I may be typing this rather than using paper, but I’m using electricity. And I’ve been using the subway a lot, but I’m doing it in Singapore, having flown here. And the building I’m in may have numerous solar panels on it, but the air conditioning keeps humming day and night to keep it a good ten degrees cooler inside than on the streets of the tropics…

So in answer to the question in the title: No, we can never be green enough, because that approach requires perfect adherence to imperfect methods. But we can be mindful, and we can be green.

David Jackman, with additional material from Alexander Jackman

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