THE BLOG
05/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Eco Etiquette: Do You Have Green Fatigue?

Send all your eco-inquiries to Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.

It seems like all you hear about these days is "going green," and I'm starting to wonder if there's going to be a backlash. I care about the environment, and even I'm getting a little sick of hearing about it...

-Rebecca

There's been talk now for several years about the supposedly inevitable "green fatigue," but from where I stand, I don't see environmental issues being pushed by the wayside anytime soon. That's because so many of the challenges we face -- an exponentially increasing world population, dwindling natural resources, the extinction of thousands of species -- will only increase in intensity as the years pass. Whether or not we choose to bury our heads in the sand, the survival of future generations depends on our ability to uncover sustainable means of producing fuel, electricity, and food.

Unfortunately, burying our heads in the sand is precisely what is happening. Al Gore may have won a Nobel Prize for his work on the environment, but more and more people are choosing to look the other way: According to a recent Gallup poll, a whopping 35 percent of Americans do not believe in global warming -- nearly double the number who held this view in 1997.

If media coverage of environmental issues is increasing, but our awareness of them is diminishing, perhaps green fatigue is at least partially to blame. Yet why? And what can we in the environmental community do to stop it?

Stop harping on global warming. Despite the consensus among 97 percent of climatologists that climate change is not only real, but manmade, the issue (in the US, anyway) has unfortunately become as politicized as abortion or gay marriage. I think it's because global warming catastrophe is a tough pill to swallow; it's hard for people to conceive of a scenario that may not be realized in their lifetime, and many believe that the very real prospect of rising sea levels is nothing more than fear-mongering. The result? We're forced to identify as either believers or nonbelievers.

People get really tired of watching the talking heads in both those camps argue with each other, and they don't react positively to a doom-and-gloom message, regardless of how loudly we yell it from the ice cap-shrinking mountaintops. If the choice is between tuning into Dateline: Global Warming or catching the latest episode of Real Housewives, you can bet which channel they're going to turn to.

We need to shift the focus to environmental issues that touch people on a personal level and that are easy to rally behind, like working to eliminate coal ash pollution, which releases harmful chemicals into our drinking water; reducing the use of toxic pesticides and petroleum-based fertilizers in our food supply; and conserving natural spaces for local communities. Not coincidentally, all of these initiatives also positively impact climate change.

Focus on the greenbacks. Ford saves $1.2 million and in turn reduces 20,000 tons of CO2 emissions by simply turning its computers off when not in use. An innovative company named OPower persuades electric utilities' customers to reduce household energy consumption -- and in turn save money -- by sending out detailed notices showing how their conservation efforts fare against their neighbors'. The lesson is clear: When money's talking, nobody's walking.

As environmentalists, we may want people to care about the planet for the polar bears' sake, but the truth remains that in a capitalistic society like the US, economic concerns trump all other issues. So let's make that work for us: If we want people to pay attention to green, we need to keep emphasizing how people can actually save their green.

Enough already with the green products. I think it's great that so many people want to create eco-friendly products, but a lot of them aren't worthwhile; what's worse, even more out there are guilty of greenwashing, which undermines consumer faith in seeking out green products altogether. (I'm talking to you, FijiGreen.com.)

At a certain point, you have to wonder if useless green junk isn't sucking our attention away from truly groundbreaking inventions that could really add value to our lives. If I see one more canvas/polypropylene/hemp tote bag company come into existence, even I may run screaming back to plastic shopping bags.

There's one final factor that could be contributing to green fatigue, which I noticed while writing this column: The word green is used way too often. There aren't a lot of choices for synonyms, either -- environmental, eco-friendly, and sustainable are about all we've got. So I propose we hold a contest for a new, exciting word that encapsulates the environmental movement. Or, we can just hope that the world becomes green enough that the word itself becomes superfluous.

Have an idea for a great word to replace the term "green?" email Jennifer Grayson at eco.etiquette@gmail.com.