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Consumer or Conservationist?

3/14/2008 12:00:00 AM


This week 'The Washington Post' ran an article, “Greed in the Name of Green,” that tells of our American tendency to think we’re good environmentalists (or at least look like one) if we buy the right stuff. “Consuming until you're squeaky green: It feels so good. It looks so good. It feels so good to look so good, which is why conspicuousness is key,” the article says. In the same week, the Earth Liberation Front claimed responsibility for torching four “built green” eco-mansions in Woodinville, Washington, a pointless act of anti-consumption that used up both resources and good will. We Americans know how to take conversations to extremes. 

This question of whether consumers can be conservationists (by the very semantics of the words) has swirled around Natural Home since it began in 1999. Years ago, I received a letter from a reader in San Diego, who said: “I used to be considered a citizen. Now I’m considered a consumer. Consumption used to be a disease. It still is!” On the same morning that the Washington Post article came out, I opened another letter from a subscriber bemoaning that many of the products we feature in the magazine are, to be blunt, expensive. She was actually pretty angry—and I do understand her frustration. As a newly single mother adjusting to life on one income, I can’t just hop onto the Internet and order the coolest new green stuff—and I know I’m not alone in feeling pinched financially (no shortage of bad economic news lately). Getting mad about that won’t do anything to further our cause (or even make us feel any better), though.

I genuinely believe that buying organic, nontoxic products makes a difference in both my family’s and the planet’s health, so I’m willing to pay a higher price—whenever I can. But my financial situation isn’t what it once was (thank God I bought the hybrid car back when I was living large on two incomes…), so I’m finding ways to be green that don’t involve buying expensive new stuff. Lately, I’ve been digging the hunt for used-furniture bargains, and I get to feel all satisfied because my purchases are inherently green. (I’m practicing re-use, that great big R of the 3Rs…)

The next issue of Natural Home—due to hit newsstands April 15—is aptly timed to address these concerns about consumption and cost. It offers inspiration for remaking old furniture (in an eco-friendly way, of course) as well as a bunch of great budget tips to help green your home. And, yes…the issue also features some luxurious, higher-end products that I can’t yet afford but I do drool over. I am, after all, an American.

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