“NOBODY made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” With this quote from Edmund Burke, Good Energy, a British renewable-power provider, launched an online shop for energy- and emissions-saving goods on September 1st. Customers who are eager to do a little for the atmosphere can order wind-up radios, energy-efficient lightbulbs, wood-fired hot-tubs and the Wattson, an elementary gizmo that monitors household energy use in tandem with a computer programme called Holmes—and can also switch from their existing grubby power provider to Good Energy.
Good Energy is just one of many cyber-stores offering an array of green goodies. Ethicalsuperstore.com offers water-powered calculators, solar-powered toy helicopters, biodegradable nappies, biodegradable tent pegs, fair-trade banana beer, partially-recycled silk-and-hemp underwear for weddings (“Lucky Knickers for Loved Up Lovelies”) and much, much more. WWF, a big conservation NGO, sells paper made from elephant dung, jigsaw puzzles of a zebra’s eye and a staple-less stapler (“Just think about this fact—if every office saved 1 staple per day, that would save 72 tonnes of metal in a year!”)
www.greatgreengoods.comHandbags made from recycled newspaper and organic cotton
But Green.view’s personal favourite is Great Green Goods, a blog that only features items made with recycled material of some sort. It features hundreds of things you never knew you needed: a birdhouse made from an old boot, for example, a handbag crafted from discarded newspapers, and a mock hunting trophy in the shape of a rhinoceros’s head fashioned entirely from used cardboard. How about a cosy for take-away coffee made from old sweaters, to supplant the little cardboard sleeves they hand out in cafés? After all, as the blurb points out, “According to East Coast Kitsch, the cardboard sleeves you put on your morning coffee cup can add up to 6-10lbs of paper waste a year! Wowser!”
There is stuff for the grungy (carpets made of old belts), the chic (strappy sandals made from recycled rubber), the nerdy (necklaces made from the keys of old computers), the laddish (coffee tables made from worn-out NASCAR tyres) and the hippyish (a ginkgo “tree-to-be” to commemorate a baby’s birth). The fact that many of the wares featured on Great Green Goods are made by women’s co-operatives, the disabled and the homeless, often in some terribly benighted country, simply stokes the warm inner glow purchasers feel as they shop to save the planet.
Needless to say, some of the world’s more dogmatic environmentalists will object to the whole notion of green shopping as a contradiction in terms. Great Green Goods’s compilers feel obliged to recommend that customers eschew wasteful purchases and “live with less”, despite the orgy of frivolous consumption they are being ushered into.
But Green.view has no qualms on that score. The majority of the world’s citizens are unlikely to be converted to the hair-shirted school of greenery, however laudable it might be. The only alternative is to find greener ways for the rest of us to go about our lives. Selling environmentally friendly versions of everyday goods, whether truly essential or utterly self-indulgent, is an important part of that process.
But websites that try to separate the eco-wheat from the planet-despoiling chaff are puzzling in another sense. As Burke’s adage suggests, even the tiniest gesture in the direction of greenery helps. There is no sense dividing the world into two categories, environmentally sound and unsound. Instead, shoppers should imagine a spectrum, from totally toxic to ecologically blameless, with infinite gradations in between. Any slight shift in their shopping habits towards the greener end of the spectrum can be considered a step in the right direction.
One website that seems to embody this philosophy is smartlygreen.com. It steers patrons to the online branches of stores they might visit anyway, such as Apple, Gap, Macy’s and Office Depot. They then shop in the normal way, earning the website commissions on all their purchases. Some of the proceeds go into carbon offsets, while another chunk is returned to customers to keep them keen.
The website proudly advertises itself as “an easy, painless and interesting starting point to living in harmony with the planet”. Users can feel good about themselves without changing their habits at all, and earn some extra cash to boot. In time, however, smartlygreen hopes to bring its customers around to more arduous displays of greenery. If they don’t like the sound of that, of course, they can always shop around.
6 months ago