Do environmental trends truly make a difference?

Corporations capitalize on Mother Nature by going "green"

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

EnviroWestern travel mugs

Our planet is doomed.

At least that’s what the media tells us. Constant images of environmental devastation, residents fleeing flooded cities, shattered homes from massive hurricanes on CNN â€" it’s an apocalyptic glimpse into our future.

I have to admit, it wasn’t until the recent eco-trends and increased conversation about the environment that I was prompted to do something about it. Just this past year, my recycling habits, portable coffee mug and grocery tote bag use have become anally retentive. My friend and I are even launching EcoZine for EnviroWestern, an environmental ’zine that features positive literature and photography contributed by students.

But are these actions enough? Is creating a ’zine on recycled paper simply my personal effort to block out those images of environmental chaos?

These questions resurfaced at the beginning of the year when I suggested a new Eco-Break feature in the Arts and Entertainment section.

My roommate got me thinking about the actual influence these articles would have on the 30,000 or so people who read The Gazette daily. She believed we’d just be jumping on the “Let’s Save the Planet” bandwagon and unless we wrote about things other than how to recycle, students will simply skip over them. While her opinion dampened my idealistic attempts to spread environmental awareness, she made a good point.

Everyone seems to be following the green trend. Television shows like America’s Next Top Model bills itself as earth-friendly because it uses seats from recycled tires. NBC held a week of green-themed programming last month.

There’s even an online “green dating” service, Planet Earth Singles, where environmentally aware singles can meet one another for only $14.95 per month.

But the exploitation of people’s efforts to “cool the planet” is nothing new. Companies have been buying into corporate environmentalism ever since the first Earth Day assailed the public with images of symbolic tree plantings and stamped its brandname on everything from coffee mugs to windbreakers.

The pronouncements, however, left out the part about major corporate polluters who endorsed the feel-good Earth Day campaign and did almost nothing to actually change the structures of society to limit climate change.

But in the back of my mind, this approach is better than nothing.

We are still giving into corporate influences and commercialization â€" that hasn’t changed â€" but at least we’re trying to help the planet in some way by wearing shoes made from bamboo or following celebrities’ tips on how to separate plastics from paper.

It’s sad to think the only way to spread environmental awareness is by splashing celebrities on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Green Issue. But we can’t be fooled into choosing one company or fad over the other just because its website is splashed with a green font and earthy photos.

If we are claiming to be advocates for the planet, we actually have to be mindful not just about what we’re buying or doing, but why it would help or hinder the planet. Otherwise, we’d just be another group of mindless zombies following a trend for a pat on the back.

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