Holiday Shopping & Marketing “Green”


So we’ve endured the hype of another Black Friday and are now clicking our way through Cyber Monday. What comes next?

One organization wants it to be “Green Tuesday.” So says their media release:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – November 17, 2011 – Shoppers who want to save green – and be greener – during the holiday season are the focus of a major new push by the nonprofit Green America to make the Tuesday after every Thanksgiving “Green Tuesday.”

To kick off this new annual holiday shopping tradition, Green America’s website ( will be offering special deals for the week starting on the first “Green Tuesday” (November 29, 2011).

Much like Groupon does for general shoppers, offers discounts and deals from local and national green online businesses that are approved by Green America. features a new deal or discount every 24-48 hours.

Now, something has to exist for a while before it can be a “tradition” and occur for at least a couple years in a row to be “annual.” So a “new annual…tradition”? Sure, plenty of marketeers have already cheapened these words – as when they pitch Disney movies as “classics” upon their release – but really, this just sounds silly.

More to the point, though, you know what the really green thing to do is? Buy less. As author Leslie Garrett puts it in a great Washington Post article on green consumerism, “The greenest products are the ones you don’t buy.”

As the article notes, when green shopping goes into overdrive, consumers fulfill

a destiny laid out by economist Victor Lebow, writing in 1955: “Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction…in consumption….We need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

The culture of obsolescence has become so deeply ingrained that it’s practically reflexive. Holey sweaters get pitched, not mended. Laptops and cellphones get slimmer and shinier and smaller. We trade up every six months, and to make up for that, we buy and buy and hope we’re buying the right other things, though sometimes we’re not sure: When the Hartman Group, a market research firm, asked a group of devout green consumers what the USDA “organic” seal meant when placed on a product, 43 percent did not know. (The seal means that the product is at least 95 percent organic – no pesticides, no synthetic hormones, no sewage sludge, no irradiation, no cloning.)

Which is why, when wannabe environmentalists try to change purchasing habits without also altering their consumer mind-set, something gets lost in translation. [Emphasis added]

Of course we all need to buy things from time to time. When we need to buy things new, it makes sense to seek out products made or grown sustainably, even if it means paying a little more than you would for similar items at your local big-box store. (As political economist Robert Reich has noted, “Our ‘great deals’ are somebody else’s lower pay and some corporation’s lobbying.”) But we don’t always need to buy new.

Nor do we always need to buy things. We can gift our time, talent and skills. We can gift services or necessities. We can gift money to charities. And when we do buy things, we can aim to buy locally, from real small businesses, not national chain stores. (More on why buying local makes good sense here and here.)

In other words, when we act as consumers, we can buy mindfully.

“The whole notion of getting a deal, that’s all we’ve seen for the last two years,” Indiana University professor of marketing Theresa Williams recently told the Associated Press. “It’s about stimulating consumers’ quick reactions. How do we get their attention quickly? How do we create cash flow for today?”

And that’s the crux of it: short-term thinking. A system that puts profits ahead of people has no qualms about what it does so long as profits are up and they can play a good PR game. And we buy into it for the short-term pleasure or satisfaction we get from buying what they sell.

But “consumption as a way of life” is unsustainable. (It can also undermine our happiness and well-being.)

The idea that we can shop to our hearts’ content and still be green is like the superficial approaches you see to “natural health.” Instead of “take this pill” or “get this surgery” for quick results, it’s “take these supplements” or “follow this diet.” Any positive results are often just as short-term as the thinking behind this “magic bullet” approach to health. True health and healing demand a more comprehensive approach.

And sure, taking a broader view and long-term approach is usually harder, but the results are often more valuable, worthwhile – in any endeavor. As Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) says of baseball in A League of Their Own, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard… is what makes it great.


Image by wallyg via Flickr


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