What does a green consumer look like?
Surely he drives a Prius, lives in a “blue” state, shops at Whole Foods and voted (and will vote for) Obama in the 2012 presidential election. This is the stereotype.
But not everyone who cares about the environment falls into this category. Believe it or not there are lots and lots of folks who don’t fit this profile who would love to see a greener and more sustainable world. Some of them are even Republicans.
And I’m not just talking about the hedge fund greenies in London and New York. There are lots of folks who want a cleaner planet but for whom it is not the number 1 priority. People who drive pick ups and go to youth soccer games and eat fast food and care about the next Disney movie coming often also care about a sustainable future. Though they might not use the term “sustainable.”
Well, the planet should be the number 1 priority of these breeders, say many of my dark green friends, raising an eyebrow right at me.
Perhaps, but most people are busy living their lives. They are only going to do so much to make the planet cleaner, reduce their carbon and water footprints etc. They have work. They have children. They have bills to pay.
This may seem very pedestrian and bourgeois to some, but this is the reality of life for most people in developed economies.
We must then compel these drones to act responsibly, say some of my friends. If the people in the suburbs insist on turning their heads to the destruction they are causing, driving SUVs, leaving the thermostat at 80 in the winter, then we must have government force them to act responsibly.
This is a recipe for disaster in terms of climate and environmental policy.
First, the people in the suburbs are not as dumb as some may think they look. They are business owners, managers, teachers, local thought leaders, and they determine the direction of the country- like it or not.
Some would argue that the government has an obligation to move “responsible” policy forward even if large swathes of the population, even the majority, disagree with it. This is power politics, and rarely has lasting results.
If the environmental community really wants to make lasting, substantive, and fundamental change beyond what it has already achieved it will have to engage the drivers of the world economy which are the world’s middle classes. They are the consumers.
If the green community (and certainly not all of the community by any means) continues to marginalize these people the resentment felt by middle America will only grow. (And trust me this resentment is profound.) As a result the middle class will continue to support policies that are not the best for the planet. As long as they see a Prius driving Obama supporter in their minds eye every time they look at a recycling bin the great American middle will push back. Trust me, for some NOT recycling is a political statement.
In order for real and deep progress to be made on the environmental front, the kind of change that demands the participation that changes the face of society, more than 40 % of the population needs to buy in. The goal should be 70% at a minimum.
How is this done?
I offer no answers here. But I will say that in the wake of the Cap and Trade debate, Solyndra, and other challenges to the environmental community which have highlighted a heavy handed top down approach from government, perhaps a new approach would work better.
One of the things we believe deeply at Tech Planet Journal is that many environmental problems can be solved through innovation. We must do more with less. This is the way toward a more sustainable world. It is geniuses not necessarily GE who will make the leaps needed. It is energetic entrepreneurs who are most likely to make renewables cost effective, not necessarily the Department of Energy. We believe that the market will allow, indeed reward this innovation. The staff of Tech Planet Journal would say for sure that the “market” is not the only answer, but it is a huge part of the answer.
What is great about emphasizing the market and innovation when it comes to environmental policy is that middle America is OK with it. It wants a greener, less polluted world, but the Washington (or worse Brussels) centered approach makes them uneasy. We must get the guy who throws his plastic in the trash can instead of the recycling bin to see that though it is “good for the environment” recycling is simply frugal and the right thing to do. If that guy knows that the company that picks up the recycling is making a buck and that his taxes are not going to the local recycling authority- that guy is going to recycle. He is at least much more likely to do so.
Some people just won’t it’s true. But embracing a more market centered approach to environmental policy will allow a large marginalized part of the population to embrace sustainable lifestyles in a way that they can’t justify now. For many the “green agenda” is defined by faceless autocrats opposed funadamentally to the American way of life. This is the perception “in the burbs” of many.
I know that for some “markets” are the enemy. I probably can’t (nor would I attempt) to convince you otherwise. But I believe that If one really wants to move the ball down the field embracing market oriented solutions to environmental challenges is vital. Markets are what America has done well, at least historically. Meet middle America on it’s own turf or fail.
Nick Sorrentino 11-22-2011