The Irony of Being Green

index“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” -Henry David Thoreau

Almost the end of the week. The budget envelope is empty. This week’s basket is overflowing with all things green. And still, I have a list of things to buy at the weekend market.

I’ve created a “green” eyed monster. The map towards simple and sustainable has now detoured towards a treasure filled with organic cotton, paraben-free shampoo, fair trade coffee, gluten-free flour, 100% beeswax candles, a pint of artisan dark chocolate ice cream, and a dream vacation at that fanciful eco-resort.

Having veered off the course of conspicuous consumption, I am now consciously consuming. The justification? With each mindful purchase, I vote for a sustainable future. The more I buy green, the more I tell big business to offer more environmentally friendly products. And so, I am saving the planet, one purchase at a time.

Yesterday, I asked friends what their notion of a “Waldorf mom” was. Disturbingly, a handful replied: rich, exclusive, and expensive. How tragic. Surely, this wasn’t the direction I set out for. Rich, exclusive and expensive were poles apart from the Henry David Thoreau quote that launched this odyssey.

But the paradox of green consumerism is that somehow, I have, with each mindful purchase, urged business to produce even more. Except that this time, the products have to be more natural, or efficient, or carry the green stamp of approval. And yet, that doesn’t lighten my footsteps on the planet. It just weighs it down even more. I suppose that’s why everyone has jumped on the green bandwagon. It is now profitable. Brand your product green, and there’s surely a conscientious consumer to buy it. We made a fuss against all the waste, and then find ourselves vying for an excess of products, awash in green with a dubious claim of reduced waste. Because green consumerism is an oxymoron. Green and consumption? Who ever thought of putting those two words together?

I aspire to be those want-not, waste-not advocates who could live in wilderness, wear camel hair and eat berries and wild honey. Except, I don’t even have enough restraint to make it through a “Buy Nothing Day.” It pains me to realize how I’ve steered off the course of living deliberately. A trip to the store, another to the market, pick up, schedule a day to the craft fair, and please don’t forget to buy unbleached white flour from Healthy Options. I fritter away hours filling up my basket. It’s ironic. I devote more time, energy and resources hunting and gathering green products than the average conspicuous consumer. Sustaining an expensive green lifestyle. What happened to the simple life?

I reckon we need to rethink what it means to be a committed environmentalist in this consumerist age. It’s no longer about being mindful of what we buy. Rather, it demands that we be mindful of consumption in itself. To detect, every time we buy, despite it being the greenie pick, that it is still one more item in our basket. To discern whether we need another organic cotton, fair trade shirt. To catch ourselves when we worry about running out of oil made from biodynamically-grown pomegranate.

And so what about growing and making things? Borrowing or bartering? Be pleased about finally making soap, a candle or ice cream. Savor baking instead of buying gluten-free muffins with coconut flour and honey every week? Get a kick out of fixing broken things, patching holes, or making things shiny anew? I have spent too much time on the detour. I desperately need to return to the path I set out for. And live with the Thoreau quote that launched this odyssey:

“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify.” -Henry David Thoreau

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