The Financial Times wrote an intriguing piece on being green, suggesting perhaps being green is a fad, or perhaps more sadly, best suited for the rich. While consumers show strong interest in wanting "green" products from "green" companies--evidence of great brand marketing around the concept--it's utterly unclear if a. companies know how to achieve this and b. if consumers would know green if they saw it.
Back in the early 1990s, green made a big appearance, Al Gore wrote his first book, arguably more soulful if less impactful that his current, and global warming, pollution , the rainforest (largely used as a metaphor to represent civilization's advance on pristine nature anywhere far from home), and sustainability were the hot topics at cocktail parties. I worked at an environmental technology firm that made an overkill technology to obliterate the world's most pernicious wastes, and despite the fact it was expensive, unproven, and faced stiff competition from incineration, landfilling, and doing nothing, stock market and government money flooded in, and we all believed we were changing the world (in truth, we really were trying to make an impact for the greater good, our sincerity was high). Along came the later 1990s, and green had faded to black. The company folded in an major scandal of great political intrigue, and so did the public's interest in anything to do with the environment.
Fast forwarding to now, green is everywhere. But it's different. It's not about regulatory reform, sustainability, technology, or any of the core issues behind minimizing ecological impacts from modern living. It's simply about being green, an amorphous, ill-defined concept few know how to support in practice. Ironically, the need for being green, giving the energy crisis, global climate change, and skyrocketing food prices, is a real issue. But our saturation around the concept might yet lead to burnout and apathy, yet again. The only hope seems to lie in alternative energy production, where companies are working quite aggressively to push technology to the market--regulatory, market and other conditions need to catch up but reality is on the side of this generation of technologists.
Perhaps the most intriguing point in the article is about green being for the rich. The rich have spare income to spend on solar panels for their yacht, so the article suggests. It's long been a debate is being environmental was in fact for the relatively well to do, who can afford a premium for organic produce, spend a $10k premium for a hybrid car and take only the most eco of eco-vacations around the world. Ironically, environmental degradation often strikes the poorest people the most, both in developed cities and rural zones. Is being "green" just an emotional panacea to make us feel better for our inevitable impact? One hopes not. But in the midst of economic concern worldwide, will being truly green be too expensive for corporations and individuals, and if so, what does that mean for the economics of being green?