Of greenwashing | AspenTimes.com

Of greenwashing

Paul Andersen

My car gets 50 miles per gallon. My house is heated with a wood-burning stove and passive solar heat. My hot water is warmed by solar panels. I recycle bottles and cans, turn off unneeded lights, conserve water and slow down for marmots.I contribute to the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Workshop, the Colorado Environmental Coalition, Western Colorado Congress, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, the Save the Gay Whales Campaign and a few other organizations that protect public lands and watchdog the environment.I feel good about what I do to minimize environmental impacts, but in truth, I’m greenwashing myself. Regardless of how green I am, and no matter how lightly I tiptoe, I still leave a footprint.Most of us greenwash ourselves to varying degrees with feel-good behavior that softens our impacts as the most conspicuous consumers on the planet. Those without a gnawing sense of responsibility are either completely insensate or high-ranking Republicans.But no matter what your ideology, it’s difficult for an honest, introspective American to claim the higher moral ground on environmentalism. Purity is impossible in an age when even one’s choice in toilet paper has grave environmental implications.I consider myself green, but I drive a few thousand unnecessary miles each year in pursuit of recreation and entertainment. I ride a bicycle made of molybdenum, a metal that comes from strip mines. I use electricity produced from coal that results in acid emissions. I eat food grown by chemically intensive agribusiness.I use paper, plastic, wood, glass, steel, rubber, aluminum and probably a few things I shouldn’t list in this column. I own stocks that are not necessarily socially conscious, and I hope for the market to go up because, even though it’s gutting the planet, it’s good for my bottom line.My standard of living is inextricably bound to natural resources, including oil from the Middle East, some of it from Iraq. Each time I gas up the car I perform a ritual shared by hundreds of millions of people, all of whom contribute to global climate change and drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.When I write a column bristling with high-minded condemnations of our wasteful consumer society, there follows a pang of self-reproach. People living in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, and I’ve got a few picture windows here on the Fryingpan.I’ve recently taken to pestering the Aspen Skico and its partner, Intrawest, over green design at Base Village. I had the temerity to invite the Skico to do the right thing and voluntarily surrender its development approvals on Burnt Mountain. The next day I’m riding the Cirque lift looking for a powder turn.As an award-winning company lauded for corporate leadership in environmental design and philosophy, the Skico bears a deep shade of praiseworthy green. Greenwashing is hypocrisy in the eco-vernacular, and it’s not a word the Skico likes to hear.Still, it would be ironic if the Skico fails to apply serious leverage to the greening of Intrawest, whose mission statement calls for “respecting community.” By inference, that means honoring local community values like green design.”Intrawest is committed to protection of the environment,” states a corporate guideline. If this is mere greenwashing, then someone needs to call them on it and insist on higher standards.Greenwashing is a model for cognitive dissonance – saying one thing and doing another. No one is perfect, but by examining our hypocrisies and confessing to them, we might one day walk the higher ground.I am reminded of the movie “Schindler’s List,” where the final message, “I could have done more,” was a prod to the collective conscience of mankind. We need to do a lot more if we wish to color ourselves with indelible green … the kind that doesn’t wash off.Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.


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