If you believe in voting with your dollar, then Green America wants to be your ballot box. The organization is like Consumer Reports’ older brother that joined the Peace Corps and goes to protests on the weekends. It evaluates businesses that aspire to sustainable and
ethical perfection with their Green Certification system, posting those they deem exemplary on their National Green Pages website, offering a directory of consciously minded businesses for the concerned customer.
Green America also engages in activist work in causes that affect consumers. As this includes the vast majority of everyone, their range of campaigns is as broad, spanning from sweatshops to the banking system. In addition, they put on events, including Green Festivals across the country in conjunction with the fair trade certifier Equal Exchange, offering a bazaar of Green Certified businesses along with speakers and workshops, and The Green Business Conference to allow business owners to learn and network.
The company was founded in the 1982 as “Co-op America,” a name jettisoned for its hippie connotations in favor of the trendily ubiquitous yet amorphous “green.” Back in the day, it produced a physical catalog of approved businesses. It was founded on the principle that if people are going to spend money, they should be using it to fight for a vision of a world they believe in.
This is definitely a step in the right direction from blind consumerism, but it should be noted that our major ecological crises are caused by consumption and overuse of resources, and thus a logical solution to the problem should be a massive reduction in our consumption habits.
This would require a change from our current “consumer society” to a “custodian” one- looking after and mending what we already have, repurposing older objects into new forms, and actively caring for our environment. Apart from simply consuming less in the first place it would involve a lot more Cradle to Cradle design where products are designed from the get go to have multiple incarnations.
The core issue with Green America is that despite all the great green companies it showcases, the core message encourages continued consumption. Redirected consumption to “ethical” companies rather than any old corporation is still a push to consume the planet’s resources no matter how green.
Further, the ethics at the heart of “voting with your dollar” are inherently off. It implies you need a dollar to be part of the game. The unequal distribution of wealth leads to an unequal distribution of votes. Who is doing the voting and what interests do they represent? The answers are easy to guess. It isn’t that family in Bangladesh.
Because of this core flaw Green America is not a solution, but a stepping stone, transitional approach, easing our current whacked out economic systems into versions that take into account people and the environment over mere profit. It’s a little like the patch for cigarette smokers – if you didn’t smoke you wouldn’t ever buy the patch but it sure beats cigarettes if you are trying to quit.
In the end, Green America’s message boils down to “keep buying stuff,” not quite a revolutionary concept. If you truly want to make a difference, decreasing, rather than shifting, your consumption patterns is the way to go. But for what you do find necessary to purchase, check out Green America, it may connect you to someone trying to make a difference as they make a living.