Sometimes, you just can't be green enough


Author:  Anne Hayes

Now and then you come across an article that just seems to beg for critique.  I came across just such an article online titled "The Environmental Impact of Magazines."  (How I got there:  I confess I linked from an article mentioned in a comment on Time/CNN's eco-centric blog called "A New Victim of Second-Hand Smoking: Fish."  That article, all by itself, was so grating that I had to blog on that, as well.  But I digress.)

The article on how magazines are trying to be greener hit a raw nerve.  The key point of the article:  magazines need to abolish their wasteful practices–not because it is inefficient or costly, but because they risk the wrath of environmentalists. (Apparently, a lot of magazines, both new and used, get thrown away.  Who knew?)  Even more baffling was the amount of serious comment and debate that ensued from this article, and the revelation that there is an organization called the Institute for Sustainable Communication, dedicated to helping publications "green" themselves, all based on the notion that this is, indeed, serious business:  if your head may be next on the environmental chopping block, you better take heed.

Now, on the one hand, you can say it's okay to be environmentally conscious.  But seriously:  Rolling Stone Magazine is going to be held up as an example of being "green" because it's going 100% recycled?  I have to ask: why stop there?  Why not be really, really green and stop publishing the thing?  Does the world really need to know that Keith Richards is still alive even though he still does not look like it?  The latest issue covers such vital topics as Steven Tyler changing his image, "Dads Who Rock", and HBO's latest show.  If Rolling Stone really cares about the environment, why doesn't it simply tell all its readers to compost its back issues, spend their time picking up litter and planting trees instead of wasting their time reading about other people who have precisely zero relevance or impact to their own lives, and shut the thing down for good?  Why suck up any resources at all on such drivel, recycled or not?

Okay, a bit harsh.  And truly, Rolling Stone Magazine gets the hit here because they were mentioned in the article, where other comparable wastes of time and resources in the magazine world (and here, the list could be veritably endless) are not mentioned.  The point is:  the preoccupation and deathly gravity with which "being green" has hit corporate America in nearly every context is only so much posturing and nonsense, and it is disturbing to see companies restlessly tout their "green" credentials under the banner of environmental responsibility because they are afraid of offending the sensibilities of environmentalist goon squads.

How far are these companies willing to go in the name of environmental hypocrisy?  The reality is that these companies, like a vast number of other companies and individuals, are using up resources that absolutely do not need to be consumed at all in order for anyone and everyone in the entire world to live a perfectly happy life.  Even so-called environmentalists unnecessarily consume vast amounts of resources:  Does Pearl Jam really need to hold another concert?  Does Al Gore really need a house with nine bathrooms? Does James Cameron really need to make another movie? Does everyone in Hollywood really need to jet to Cannes?

But using up resources for these purposes is perfectly fine with us: people should be allowed to spend their time and money entertaining themselves as they please (within reason), and letting Rolling Stone continue to publish its nonsense in a quest to make a buck is (or used to be, anyway) the American way.  Consequently: why is everyone running around trying to justify themselves to environmentalists?  Why are companies allowing environmentalists to define their market without finding out if their real market really cares?  Why aren't they making the case that their product has value regardless of green irrelevancies?

There is nothing wrong with doing things efficiently to avoid waste, and if it makes economic sense, by all means, do it.  But it is a dangerous precedent to allow, endorse, or humor hard-line environmentalists who use bullying tactics to spell out to corporations what resources they are allowed to consume.  Letting environmentalists dictate to both producers and consumers which uses of resources are less valuable or worthy than other uses–as well as who is or is not entitled to use those resources–is a recipe for authoritarian disaster.