Thursday, March 20, 2008

Updated article on Conspicuous Sustainability

Conspicuous Sustainability

...or how I learned to stop worrying and love the trend.

Sustainability is a very popular catchphrase nowadays. Companies work hard to let their companies know that their practices are environmentally friendly and that their products are green. Celebrities have begun voice their opinions on the matter. Their demand for clothes and toys that fit their new cool and trendy lifestyle is eagerly supported by environmentalists, who needs the money and attention, and by their fans, who labour to imitate them.

It is getting to the point where it is difficult to differentiate between those that are madly passionate about saving the world and the knowledgeable early trend adopters. Luckily, there still exists the type of people that wear their hearts on their sleeves, so to speak.

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These people practice conspicuous sustainability. I hesitate to use the word “greenwashing” as it explicitly refers to something else and carries with it a strong negative connotation. Instead, a page is taken out of Veblen’s book.

There is a positive and negative side to conspicuous consumption. The negative side is obvious to those that have studied Veblen: wasteful consumption, compulsive spending, etc. However, the positives are not so obvious. These people tended to be the early adopters of new technology and tastes/styles and were not afraid to spend the money to get it. You may have heard of the 20/80 rule, where 20 percent of one's customers provide 80 percent of one's revenue. Since these early adopters demanded innovation and were providing the bulk of profit, businesses were motivated to provide newer and better things, resulting in the lifestyle and consumer/producer model we enjoy today as well as giving the economy a big boost.

Similarly, there is a positive and negative side to conspicuous sustainability. The negative side includes sustainability falling out of fashion and greenwashing, which involves companies highlighting certain “green” elements of products while keeping the non-environmentally friendly aspects hidden. The big positive, however, is the amount of attention and awareness being brought to the topic of sustainability. Because of this attention, I believe that it would be impossible for this trend to ever go away. The social enigma of being a tree-hugger has been removed and in its place are litterbugs and eco-villains. Green has become the norm and standard. It is quickly reaching the point where non-green actions are considered faux pas, similar to how wearing fur coats would net you dirty looks.

This brings us to an interesting conclusion: whether people are genuinely practicing green activities, or if they are just trying to be trendy, in the end, they are still doing the world a favour in preserving it. For that reason, I am content to put aside my cynicism and focus it on other things, like American elections.

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