Beyond Green

03/18/2010 05:12 am 05:12:02 | Updated May 25, 2011

“Green is the new black” is so 2007. Oscars were won for a film about a slide show about global warming. Demand for hybrid cars outpaced production. Media companies, sports teams, everyone it seemed was turning green, toting thermoses and donning organic tees.

Was it all just a fad? Not entirely. A recent poll, conducted by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, found that the percentage of Americans who believe there is solid evidence the earth is warming due to pollution, has dropped to 57 percent, down from 77 percent in 2006, and 71 percent in April 2008. However, despite their misgivings about the science, half the respondents still say they support limits on greenhouse gases, even if they could lead to higher energy prices, and a majority—56 percent—feel the United States should join other countries in setting standards to address global climate change.

With the economy and jobs foremost on people’s minds, no wonder they “see these issues as less grave” says Andrew Kohut, the director of the research center, which conducted the poll from September 30 to October 4, 2009.

It should be no less surprising, given the economic stresses on the American family, that many are seeing green in a more serious light, not as a luxury to indulge in when times are good, but as a necessity to integrate into all aspects of life especially when times are tough.

Homeowners are realizing that it makes practical good sense to retrofit their homes so energy and money don’t go out the window or through the roof. And parents are choosing to avoid exposing their family to toxins in common household products that may trigger costly chronic illness later in life, especially when safer alternatives are available. Families are making more meals at home because it’s smarter, better for them and cheaper.

Cities and towns are getting smarter as well, and imposing sensible policies like congestion and parking pricing in their downtowns, knowing that this will yield the triple benefit of increased revenues, a more livable city in which more people walk or use public transportation, and a reduction in emissions of global heat-trapping pollution.

Others of course are way ahead of the United States. Entire countries have begun tagging their food with the CO2 pollution generated in its production in the hopes of influencing consumers’ food choices.
The U.S. does have Colin Beavan, known now as No Impact Man, who made a year-long commitment to live without producing any net impact on the environment. In his own words: no trash, no carbon emissions, no toxins in the water, no elevators, no subway, no products in packaging, no plastics, no air conditioning, no TV, no toilets.

These are serious actions being taken by real people to address real and very serious problems. Green may not be in anymore, but concern that is great enough to elicit action can’t be reduced to a color. Being smart, sensible, practical about every day living–this is what’s behind the attitudinal and behavioral shift we are seeing in homes and neighborhoods across America and around the world. Prevention is back – preventing waste, preventing harm, preventing illness–as is conservation, reminding many of us of our parents and grandparents who saved every piece of aluminum foil, who made meals with leftovers in mind, and who conserved because to be wasteful cost too much.

I’ve been involved in the green consumer movement for nearly 20 years, working to provide consumers the information they need to make the best choices for their health and the planet. There have been ebbs and flows, but basically a trending upward in interest in these issues–health, home, food, safety–and very recently a renewed sense that we’ve moved beyond the debate, the urgency of the problems demand action now. Even among entrenched Republicans in the Senate, there appears to be a thawing in attitude and a readiness for action, led most recently by Lindsey Graham, who declared his commitment to getting energy and climate legislation passed.

This renewed sense of urgency and readiness to act has been a motivator these past few months as I helped to update Simple Steps, NRDC’s news you-can-use web portal. We wanted to create a place where real people concerned about real things—their kids, their health, their community, their future could find smart solutions to serious matters that affect and are affected by their everyday life decisions. There is no doubt in my mind that people care—what they want to know is what to do. Come check out Simple Steps and let us know what you think.