Is not being green a “social faux pas”? If so, will green imposters follow?

I don’t typically give much weight to surveys, particularly ones that have been paid for by private interests, but a new national (Canadian) survey — a joint effort by Bosch Home Appliances and Leger Marketing — caught my attention. It addresses the question of whether people who waste energy and senselessly pollute are at risk of becoming social outcasts in our increasingly green-conscious society. Or, as the survey press release calls them, “environmental delinquents.”

According to the survey of 1,510 adult Canadians, “a full 7 in 10 Canadians say it’s a social faux pas to do things that are environmentally irresponsible.” Dr. David Bell, a professor of environmental studies at Toronto’s York University, compares this social trend to how some people look down on smokers.

He said a combination of green legislation, public policy incentives and disincentives, and leadership from government, schools and corporations has increased awareness so much that he expects within five years the “eco-delinquent” label might stick. “Canadians are starting to close the gap between their eco-beliefs and their actions — and while we have a ways to go, I see this country at the cusp of great social change,” said Bell.

I’m somewhat skeptical, at least with regards to his optimistic timeline. I do think that as a society we’ll have no choice but to change our views on such things. Just as we automatically fasten seatbelts, take out the green bin, and accept that smoking isn’t appropriate in public places, I think there will be a social stigma at some point attached to people who feel it’s their right to pollute and waste without limit, or who simply don’t think about the consequences of their actions in the grand scheme of things.

If and when we get to this point, I wonder if the pressure to Keep Up With the Joneses will create a market of green imposters — people who want to appear green, but don’t want to pay the money required to get there. I’m thinking about fake solar panels for residential rooftops, and stickers for cars and homes that suggest people have efficient vehicles or use green power…

It’s sad that I’m even considering such things.

7 thoughts on “Is not being green a “social faux pas”? If so, will green imposters follow?”

  1. I’m comfortable with the choices I make. All this green sanctimony is sickening.

    The survey result only convinces me that this has nothing to do with the environment. If “environmentalists” truly care about me wasting resources, their sneers are likely to make me more intransigent in my behaviour. Maybe its time to try another tact.

  2. When I look at my own environmentalism, I have to be very careful to not get sanctimonious. I recently met an old old friend who had purchased a huge new SUV. I immediately sneered at it, but only later realized what I’d done. I drive a small Jetta that runs on biodiesel as often as I can find it, but my footprint is probably way larger than my friend’s. And that’s purely due to my stormchasing. Yes, I’ve seen what lies in store with climate change (which I call climate disruption – thank you Hot, Flat, and Crowded) having been through multiple hurricanes, but am I any better just because I use biodiesel? It was an eye opener for sure and sometimes it can difficult to look at yourself, especially when you like to think of yourself as green.

  3. The idea of fake solar panels and misleading stickers promising efficiency on gas guzzling autos made me chuckle, but you’re probably not far off, Tyler. Though I have no proof other than anecdotes, I believe many people knowingly take false comfort in greenwashed products… (“The label’s green, I’m sure all this PVC biodegrades!”) But the gap between being complicit and being misleading oneself probably isn’t a big one, especially when social pressure gets added to the mix. For this reason, we need to find ways to inspire people to go green with wins vs. shaming them. That said, if keeping up with the Jones’s starts to mean reducing one’s footprint vs. buying more junk, a little stigma might not be a bad thing. Good post.

  4. There’s no question that where there’s morality, there’s hypocrisy. Turning something into a fashion statement might have some short-term appeal, but you also risk cheapening it. Turn something into a social faux-pas, and you get people doing it for reasons of embarrassment, status anxiety etc, rather than the original intention.

    But things like not smoking, wearing seatbelts and not driving drunk are not just “socially unacceptable”. They’re also just really really bad ideas. It just took us a while to appreciate and fully internalise the level of risk involved with these activities. Human beings just aren’t that good at understanding probability.

  5. Oops…pressed “submit” to soon. I was going to mention that what one thing about environmentalism is that fundamentally, the philosophy underpinning it is logically sound. Call it not shitting where you sleep. All it takes is a little understanding of the science and then the hard logic of doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, or not depleting nonrenewable resources, eventually kicks in. THat’s something environmentalism has going for it, and it’s one reason it won’t be a fad like any other. It will change quite a bit, there will be a lot of silliness (there always is), but the fundamentals are strong.

  6. To me, it seems like calling people on not being green is a far bigger ‘social faux pas’ – especially if you ever bring up the climatic impact of regularly taking long flights.

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