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Nature, redefining

Green products and Green washing

David Zetland had a great post up on his blog Aguanomics the other day.  In it, he talks about what he calls ‘green oxymorons’ – things that are said to be green but that are really not green at all.

“Green products (recycling, solar power, hybrid cars, etc.) are more about consumption than production, since people are willing to pay/subsidize them to “feel good.”

He goes on to say that buying green products is called productive work but it’s actually consumptive work.  I happened to read this blog a day before I read an opposing viewpoints article on landfill use, garbage, and recycling.  That article made the point that using less products produces less waste on both our end and the packaging/company end.  Needless to say, these articles got me thinking about production. (I promise not to bring up Foucault!)

When I wrote my thesis, I spent a lot of time thinking about productive labor versus unproductive labor.  I was thinking of it in terms of whose labor was called what (‘women’s work’ as unproductive or reproductive, and men’s work as productive), but I think some of those thoughts are welcome here.  What is productive labor, in a green sense of the word, and what is unproductive?

Zetland says that green products are more consumptive than anything else, meaning that the production of hybrid cars encourages us to buy rather new rather than to get the most use out of what we have, thus using more materials and producing more waste.  So it becomes unproductive by eco definition.

Eco-productive work would be something that produces an item without using more raw materials.  So anything upcycled would be eco-productive (so you can feel good about buying those upcycled earrings!), owning only as many free grocery totes as you need to carry your groceries would also be, and going out of your way to not buy plastic bottle after plastic bottle.

I think that most of us do a lot of these things, but I know that when I started to think about it, I realized how many plastic bottles I’m still putting into the recycling bin.  Plastic is one of the hardest things to recycle – it takes the most amount of work to melt it down and reuse it.  So that’s not very productive of me.

I think this is a really interesting new way to frame the way I think about green products – it can only truly green if it is eco-productive as well, meaning that it is produced in a eco-friendly manner and the goal of the company is not to make me rush out and buy something new.



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