retail news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times has a piece about Heather Rogers, author of “Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution” (Scribner, 272 pages, $26), in which she argues that “green capitalism is actually undermining ecological progress.”

According to the story, Rogers believes that “corporate America has led us into thinking that we can save the earth mainly by buying things like compact fluorescent light bulbs, hybrid gas-electric cars and carbon offsets.”

“The new green wave, typified by the phrase ‘lazy environmentalism,’ is geared toward the masses that aren’t willing to sacrifice,” Rogers writes. “This brand of armchair activism actualizes itself most fully in the realm of consumer goods; through buying the right products we can usher our economic system into the environmental age.”

The Times writes that “Rogers offers plenty of evidence that consumers who load up their shopping carts with organic food, for instance, may be unwittingly subsidizing big farm companies that are eradicating forests and defiling the soil in some developing countries. She says their governments aren’t as concerned about the environment, and well-intentioned nongovernmental organizations don’t have much clout.”

In the book, Rogers visits organic farmers in upstate New York and, the Times writes, “laments that they can’t make a living because it is so expensive for them to comply with the federal certification requirements for organic foods. ‘What isn’t being talked about is that many of the small organic producers who are expected to lead the reinvention of the food system can barely make ends meet,’ she says.”
KC's View:
The book is not out for a few weeks, but it sounds like it may be worth taking a look at.

It sounds like some of her criticisms and observations may be valid, but on the other hand, would we be better off if we used less efficient light bulbs and cars? Hard to imagine.

On the other hand, the Times points out that Rogers’ premise isn’t just about what we buy, but how much we buy...and that shoppers may have a great impact on the environment simply by buying less stuff. Sounds reasonable, though hardly what people want to hear.

It also cannot be ignored that some retailers have turned the green movement into money-saving tactics that serve their broader strategies. (Interestingly, as I write this, I have “Morning Joe” on in the background, and there was just a Walmart commercial that I hadn’t seen before with a company trucker named Mike talking about his ability to drive smarter routes with fuller trucks helps “people save money and live better.”)

As for the federal certification issue...I am sympathetic, but I’m not sure what the alternative is. Should we have a system that does not require fealty to specific standards and enough transparency to insure that the farmers are being accurate and honest? I don’t think so...but if the system puts farmers out of business, that sort of defeats the purpose.