"Green" is a term that gets bandied about far too often these days; it's become very popular to brand yourself as such, and that's a double-edged sword: more general awareness is good, but watering down the term to encompass more than it should is not. As education and information about environmental friendliness continues to spread, it will not be enough to simply be "green." Where will we go from there? The concept will expand from "green" to "ethical."
Already popular in the UK and Europe, ethical takes the generally regarded facets of being green -- materials, production methods, level of eco-impact, and so on -- to a different level, where the well being of everyone and everything involved gets due consideration. It's not enough to have organic eggs; they should be from cage-free chickens, on a small, local family farm, that are fed an all-vegetarian diet. It's not enough to build a huge new 10,000 square-foot home that employs green building techniques; no matter how green they are, McMansions use more energy to build and maintain, and it isn't ethical to engage in such behaviors. The question of "ethical" can apply to everything in our lives, from food and fashion to transportation and design.
Susan S. Szenasy, the intrepid editor of the excellent Metropolis magazine, has a really good take on "ethical" when it comes to design, the built environment, and the tools we use for both. She says, "I interpret ethics to mean that we have a moral duty, an obligation to our fellow humans and to other living creatures. And that obligation calls on us to be prudent stewards of the natural environment that supports and sustains our lives. Sustaining the environment, in turn, is our highest priority as thinking, verbal, tool-using creatures blessed with free will; yes, we have a choice. In my view, it's ethical to choose fresh water, clean air, nutritious food -- the bounties our home planet provides for us -- and safeguard these for future generations."
Photo: Nemo's great uncle @ Flickr
So it's about employing green techniques, but it's more about being a mindful human being. "Ethical" means not just buying green products because they say they're green, but thinking about where those products came from, how they were manufactured, and what will happen to them when you're done with it. It's about realizing that we humans aren't the only beings on the planet who have the right to a comfortable life, and that we in the first world don't have the right to live like there aren't other people around our globe who struggle for survival every day. Essentially, "ethical" takes the best of green -- fair trade, organics, local, sustainable -- and synthesizes it into a mantra that has the potential to really change the world. Hop on the bandwagon now; it could be the next big thing in green.