A person reading this article, or any of the numerous other articles on here, probably have at least a passing interest in trying to live in a way that is Sustainable, or as it is commonly called, living “Green.” We at the Sustainability House on Albright Campus use the term “Sustainability” because it is more descriptive of the overall goal of the lifestyle we try to lead at our house – the goal of consuming as few resources as we can and cause as little environmental harm as possible, while also keeping up the pretense of a normal 21st century American life. Sustainability is a more useful term for House members to use amongst ourselves, but it’s a term that most of the students (and faculty) on campus are unfamiliar with. Sometimes people will take a blind guess and come quite close to the definition, but often when I explain what we do at the house, I find it more helpful to say “we are living Green,” which always elicits understanding in the friend I am talking to at the time. It was the word green, more than sustainability or conservation or ecological or any other word relating to a lifestyle geared towards preserving the environment, that became inextricably linked as the definition of the movement that it was describing.
When one thinks about it, it almost seems nonsensical – why would a color, more than any word which actually described the intention of the movement, become the most popular way to refer to that movement? And why Green, over every other color of the rainbow? Why not the blue movement? Or the red movement? Or the chartreuse for that matter? A few moments of reflection plus a quick search on Wikipedia to confirm reveals that the reason that Green is so associated with environmental movements is because it relates to the color that dominates nature (at least in this corner of the world) most – the color of chlorophyll and so plants and so the very basis of the food chain and so ecosystems. But more than that, I think that the reason Green, more than any other definition of environmental movements, has become a household phrase, is because it was chosen to be symbolic. It is better than any specific term because in handily refers a great deal of related issues without excluding any one, and it ties them all to the idea of a healthy planet – it is a shorthand for everything environmentalists strive for. That said, a few years back, when environmentalism was getting widespread media attention and became something at center stage in popular culture, initiatives to win over people to the cause coined the phrase “Go Green!” Alliteration and symbolism -a match made in heaven if there ever was one.
The point of this ramble is that “Green” became the shorthand for environmentalism because it was a moniker that could resonate with people on a deeper level and appeal to them in a way that more academic terminology couldn’t, and because of that for a time, just as nature is good in the popular mindset, the Green movement was too. Unless you were specifically against it, you were with it, it was taken as writ that it was something to get behind, and really I don’t think anyone could possibly say that nature is bad in this day and age, unless they are really paranoid about getting eaten by a tiger. I remember that things then felt like a real movement, like finally society was going to tackle the problems we had inflicted on the world. Turns out that was fad. In a few years, the Green movement ran its course and people went back to indifference. After that, people like us at the House and just about anyone reading this article, became something less than activists in the public eye – we became fans. Just like every other fad that came and went, from disco to video arcades to those weird rubber bands that look like animals, there were a few left behind who really liked what was said at the time and didn’t move on. We don’t deserve to be looked at like that, but more than that, humanity doesn’t deserve to look at sustainability like that. Conservation isn’t a fad, it’s a lifestyle, an ambition we hold for society, and the path that everyone on Earth is going to have to walk because, more than anything, it is the solution to human failure to plan ahead and realize the importance of restraint.
The Green movement got people excited, but failed to follow through, and even worse, it marginalized Sustainability. We at the House have been fighting all semester against this disinterest, because we aren’t just fans, we the experts, the people who not only want to live sustainably, but that realize that the whole world will benefit from living sustainably, and the ones in a position to actually foster that belief in others. For anyone who wants to live sustainably, it is going to have to be a part of that lifestyle to also be a missionary – to convince people not only of the validity of this lifestyle, but the need for it. Ultimately, today, living Green is looked at as something like any other interest – he likes videogames, she likes sports, he likes living green. It’s not disdained, but it’s not in the mainstream. To anyone reading this, I say congratulations -congratulations on maintaining the will to live this lifestyle even as culture dismisses its relevancy exactly when it becomes a necessity in reality. Living sustainably, or ecologically, or “green” is not a hobby, it’s practice that society needs to adopt to survive the amount of damage that has already been done to the world, and if we really, really want, as members of this movement, to help the world (and that’s what we’re all here for, right?) then more than anything, we have to be convinced that we know what we are doing is right, and to convince everyone else too. So have a conversation today (or tomorrow if you are reading this as late as I am typing this) about Green with someone you respect and who respects you, because the best way to make a movement larger, is to trust people enough, as intelligent people, to see the same reasons we have for living how we do, if we get intelligent people to think about it. After all, if we could see enough reason to read Sustainability blogs on the internet, then something must be compelling enough about Going Green for anyone to get involved.
And thanks to anyone for getting this far. I really could have been more eloquent, but I really just hope you take home the conviction to start reaching out to folks, and start seeing things from their point of view.