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It ain’t easy being green

Jason Coleman | Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Its official. Being “green” is a full-fledged cultural movement.

How can I proclaim this with such uncompromising certainty? Time Warner Cable Channel 1226: Planet Green. The movement has its own official cable channel (regular and HD).

The channel features all kinds of “green” programming, showing hip, cool people doing hip and cool green projects. From Emril Lagasse’s organic cooking show to Tommy Lee and Chris “Ludacris” Bridges eco-tour face off, the channel really does make being green look so fresh and stylish. The crowning show, however, is “Alter Eco.” Adrian Grenier, of Entourage fame, introduces a few of his friends who are building a fully green house in L.A.. They then spend the majority of the show helping other high-end designers “green up” the operation.

To their credit, the folks on this show are green machines; they do everything possible to make everything some form of “all-natural” or “environmentally friendly.” Popularizing the movement in this way, through television programs and pop culture trends, paints “greenness” as requiring us to drop our way of life to reach eco-friendly nirvana. This is not only inefficient, and a waste of resources – but fairly disheartening to those who feel they are making an effort to do their part.

The truth is, it is easy bein’ green. While there are three primary channels through which action can be taken (personal/consumer, government and markets), an average person really only has full control over the first: personal or consumer use. Today, however, even taking control over your personal environmental footprint can seem daunting. Thousands of new products line the shelves advertising how each is better for the environment than its competitor. There are detergents that are chemical free, paper that is 50 percent recycled, and cars that advertise they can travel a million miles per gallon.

Recently, Terrachoice, an environmentally friendly marketing firm, released a report entitled “The Six Sins of Greenwashing.” In it, they concluded that 99.9 percent of consumer products bearing an environmental/green marketing claim were false or misleading. This isn’t very reassuring to those hoping to save the world one bottle of $8 organic/chemical-free/nontoxic/made of wholesome grain laundry detergent at a time.

My advice: Take all of that, throw it out the window and stick to the basics. Rather, work on and fine-tune your basics. These are the practices that have been espoused by bland public service announcements since you were five years old. Unfortunately, in the flood of personal household solar panels and gutter rain barrels, their relative importance seems to have diminished. So to remind us all, here is the short list:

1. Recycle your cans and paper. Currently, paper makes up a full one third of solid waste generated. Over 55 percent of paper is still dumped into landfills rather than recycled. On campus, with bins in all classroom buildings and in each dorm, there is no reason any paper should end up in the trash can. Additionally, only one in four aluminum cans are recycled. That is about eight cans out of a case of Natty. I know this one is harder, but do your best to save the cans and recycle them.

2. Be conscious of your main energy uses. You are probably expecting me to say don’t watch TV, leave the lights off until you can’t possibly see anything outside or go back to typewriters. Actually, the best way to immediately reduce your energy uses is to simply unplug your electronic device chargers when you aren’t using them. Only five percent of energy used by a cell phone charger actually charges the phone. The other 95 percent is wasted out into the air while it remains plugged in. The same goes for your laptop charger: unplug it. The easiest way to do this is to simply plug all of your chargers into one power strip and when something isn’t charging, simply flip the switch.

3. Finally, when the market works out the energy problem (which it eventually will), make the right choice. For the next couple of years, it will be more expensive to use alternative energy than conventional energy. However, drastically cheaper alternative sources are at our doorstep. A Nevada company, Ausra, expects to be able to handle base loads for up to 30 percent of the entire southwest United States within ten years at a price very close to current kilowatt per hour rates. All you have to do, when the time comes, is choose to pay an extra penny or two per unit.

That’s all. Over the course of a month, this may only amount to ten bucks. More importantly, it will spur further investment and push profitability thereby adding economic incentive for big business to use and create clean energy even more. After all, oil would have never spread so quickly throughout the world had it not been for Nelson Rockefeller and Standard Oil.

Now, let me put a personal disclaimer in for myself. In no way do I think it is wrong or unhelpful for a person to go above and beyond in following the three basic tenets. However, the cost effectiveness and returns on one individual’s environmental obsession is far less helpful than inspiring more and more people to do the basics correctly. So let’s not go overboard and frighten people away from making the little changes that can have a large effect; just keep reminding people to unplug chargers and recycle their tests.

Jason Coleman is a junior majoring in management. He can be contacted at coleman.70@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.