Piers Fawkes: Tis The Season To Avoid Green Gift Guides

Could green bloggers and journalists be damaging the environment because their focus on the individual lets corporations off the hook?

Could green bloggers and journalists be damaging the environment because their focus on the individual lets corporations off the hook?

Over the last few weeks I’ve immersed myself in the world of climate change. As I’ve worked alongside my team with The Climate Reality Project to develop new Gaming For Good ideas to support Al Gore’s team’s mission, I’ve started to learn that the green movement’s personal behavior is actually damaging to the environment.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with asking people to behave consciously, but the problem is that the bright spotlight seems to be unjustly focused on the individual and not the companies they buy from or the places they work at.

What has happened to the environmental movement? It seems to be all about top 10 green-product lists and there’s little about who’s really causing damage-to our planet. Blogs and magazines seem to be keen to wave the latest cool eco-packaging ideas in front of our noses but ignore the deeper environmental issues at the companies that are making the products that are wrapped in it.

Certainly there are some folks showing a green carrot to business execs: I applaud the work of Triple Pundit for flagging the strategic environmental efforts of some of the world’s largest companies. But what ever happened to criticism of the brands and organizations that surround us?

This sentiment was echoed recently in a piece on Grist by Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. In the article he says:

Most media sidebars and web links quickly send us to that peppy and bright list we all know so well, one vaguely reminiscent of Better Homes and Gardens: “10 ThingsYou Can Do to Save the Planet.” Standard steps include: change three light bulbs. Consider a hybrid car for your next purchase. Tell the kids to turn out the lights. Even during the recent Al Gore-inspired Live Earth concerts, the phrase “planetary emergency” was followed by “wear more clothes indoors in winter” and “download your music at home to save on the shipping fuel for CDs.”

Nice little gestures all, but are you kidding me? Does anyone think this is the answer?

As we reviewed the concepts submitted to the Gaming for Good challenge we noticed that many of the submissions were still about people doing good rather than a focus on the wrong doers and deniers. The common mindset seems to be about being green – not demanding green.

One team member from the Climate Reality Group told me in an email discussion about the submissions:

The Climate Reality Project’s point of view has been that plenty of others are working on changing individual actions, and that there is in fact importance of recognition of the dynamic at play in terms of denial as it impacts everything from policy, investments, entrepreneurship, global agreements and the ability to drive systemic solutions. As long as the onus is on the individual, the ability to create those larger, systemic solutions will be enervated.

Creative visionary Alex Bogusky who has been advising The Climate Reality Project and has been involved with the Gaming for Good challenge also told me via email:

The behavior we should be focused on changing are those that influence utilities, corporation and governmental agencies/policies and not just individuals.

People want to take responsibility and that is amazing but the people/institutions that need to change are hiding behind that and hoping we continue to make people feel like they are to blame. They’re not.

If any single person on earth drives a Prius and charges it with coal produced energy then nothing has changed. The way we produce power has to change. Not how we use it.

Could the writing of some green bloggers and journalists be damaging to the environment because their focus on the individual lets corporations off the hook? The green media needs to stop telling people to buy cool stuff that’s labeled organic or BPA-free, and they need to start helping people identify who is at fault here so that people can actively lobby the companies folks buy from, or the employers people work for.

A recent post on Treehugger worryingly reads that climate change will lead to a global temperature rise of 11 degrees fahrenheit by 2100. It seems that half a decade of green blogging and the subsequent mainstream awareness of environmental issues doesn’t seem to have had much of an affect.

Why aren’t we complaining to the manager of our local grocery store about the sales of a certain brand from a certain corporation? During apartheid in the 70s and 80s, the consumer boycott of South African goods helped change opinion about what was happening in the country. While I acknowledge that there’s debate about whether the boycott accelerated change to cause apartheid to end, the fact is that the noise the boycott made in everyday people’s ears changed people’s minds. It makes me ask why can’t we have a movement as big as the one against South African goods, happen against climate deniers and polluters today?

Maybe the answer is that individuals feel powerless and alone in the face of their challenge — and the response to the environmental challenge by the companies we all seem to know is to launch a single product category that hat-tips the green movement. There doesn’t seem to be organization wide change. Erik Joule gave a wonderful speech about Levi’s WaterLess jeans program at PSFK CONFERENCE SAN FRANCISCO this year — but why aren’t we all demanding that all jeans are ‘waterless’ now?

Consumers need to demand that brands stop experimenting in the green space and commit to it.  How can they be empowered to make this happen?

The submissions that we got for the Gaming for Good project indicate that we can change the conversation with digital tools that engage consumers and employees in a way that allows them to make their voices heard everyday so they can express their frustration with the companies they buy from and the places they work. These tools need to give people access to information about the organizations they deal with so they can understand their own environmental record and keep track of how their friends and peers are reacting to that record through their socialgraph. On top of that, people need some less rational reasons to get involved. The use of game mechanics and playlike behavior can change the way people will get involved with this subject. Playful tools will encourage them to challenge the status quo.

At a special PSFK event this Friday, former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore will discuss the shortlist of the Gaming for Good ideas submitted by some of the most creative people around the world.  We will share those ideas on the pages of PSFK over the next few weeks with the hope that communities and organizations will take those concepts and use them to change the conversation and challenge the corporations around us in a way that far exceeds what any green Holiday gift list could ever do.

Maybe the next time your favorite blog or magazine runs a green gift guide (even if its PSFK.com!) challenge the editorial team as to why they’re running such an ineffective environmental message and ask them to help identify the corporations creating and/or denying climate change instead.

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