Friday, July 27, 2007

Can 'green chic' save the planet?

Green, it seems, has gone mainstream. Magazines like Elle, Fortune, and Vanity Fair have published "green issues" in the past year, and the Academy Awards were carbon neutral. The Vatican recently announced plans to offset its 2007 emissions, while Costa Rica pledged to arrive at "net zero" by 2021.

Green has also gone trendy. Last week, Whole Foods Market released a limited edition, $15 cotton bag with "I'm not a plastic bag" emblazoned on its side. When the bag went on sale at outlets in Taiwan, a stampede followed. In Hong Kong, throngs shut down a shopping mall. In New York City last week, lines formed at dawn. Later that day, bags were offered on Craigslist for between $200 and $500. "These bags are walking billboards," says Isabel Spearman, a spokeswoman for the bag's designer, Anya Hindmarch. "You do have to make something trendy, and it becomes a habit. That's the whole point."

...The manifest value of a canvas bag, for example, is to carry things without using plastic. The latent value of a Whole Foods-issued, $15 Anya Hindmarch-designed bag emblazoned with "I'm not a plastic bag" – echoing surrealist artist RenĂ© Magritte's famous "this is not a pipe" painting – is almost entirely unrelated to this manifest utility.

"You're trying to present a certain image of yourself where you're someone who cares about the earth, shops at a [certain] store, and someone who's up on a particular trend," Professor Henke says. "But in the end, if it's just another thing people will grab and use for a month, then it is kind of a waste."

...So while faddism may influence people's marketplace choices, many still ask the million-dollar question: What will happen when the canvas bag-toting, hybrid car-driving, "green" credit-card-wielding (GE just announced a card with carbon footprint-reducing rewards) consumer goes to the polls?

From the Christian Science Monitor