Friday, March 14, 2008

Green Consumerism

Are you a green consumer? Do you bring your own bag or basket when you shop for groceries? Do you shop at stores that use bio-degradable plastic bags?

Environmentalists encourage us to buy produce grown locally. The logic is that imported produce has to be air-freighted, and cargo planes are air polluters.

Now, suppose that you live in UK. You want to buy roses, and you have two options. You can buy roses that are grown in Netherlands, and imported in boats or trains. Alternatively, you can buy roses that are flown in from Kenya. What is your choice?

Apparently, from the perspective of environmentalism, you should buy Dutch roses. But if we boycott Kenya, we may put flower farmers in the African nation out of jobs. Remember that Kenya is a 3rd world country.

So, tell us your choice…

Dutch rose...

... or Kenyan rose?

OK, here is the reality. According to a study at Cranfield University, the carbon footprint of the Dutch roses turns out to be six times as large because they have to be grown in heated greenhouses.

Green consumerism isn’t always as green as we think…

The Economist, January 19-25, 2008 issue

Related posts:
Sins of Recycling
Sins of Recycling II


  1. You are right, sometimes the self-claimed green products that we buy are not that green actually. We need to be educated in order to become a smart and green consumers.

  2. jam
    Can you give some examples?

  3. I m although not totally green la..

  4. keeyit
    It is not easy to be green, huh?

  5. Interesting post. The Economist sometimes forget that we cannot use money to determine what is the right thing to do.

    As fossil fuel production fails to meet demand, the cost of transport will continue to rise, so choosing to buy locally will become a necessity anyway.

    And as for climate change, if you buy imported goods you are polluting. Buying locally you have the opportunity to deal with the heating of greenhouses.

    Best is to buy in season.

    The farmers in Kenya should be growing food for their own people, protected by a tariff system to keep out goods from subsidized agri-businesses in other countries.

    We have developed many foolish, wasteful habits in the last century or so because cheap oil allowed it. That age is coming to an end and we will all have to change our ways if we are to survive.

    Here in Japan we grow less than 40% of our own calories of food (forget roses). In my grocery store I see kiwi fruit from New Zealand, grapefruit from Florida and Israel, many processed foods from China, and other processed foods made in Japan but using wheat from the USA. Almost all the meat is fed with grains from the USA.

    That offers cheaper prices and wider variety now but there are downsides - like BSE beef from the USA, pesticide laden vegetables from China, meat raised on GM grains, and so on.

    What happens if the sea level rises due to climate change and China loses much of its prime farmland to the sea? What happens when the population of countries we buy from goes up and they cannot export food because they need it themselves? What happens when oil gets so expensive that shipping becomes costly, or food crops are turned into biofuel crops.

    Buy local. In season. Organic. Vegetarian. Only then can we feed a population of 6.5 billion and growing as fossil fuels declines and prevent a climate change catastrophy.

  6. panda
    Wow... what a long, and detailed comment. Thank you for your input.

    But some researchers argue that due to ever growing population, we can't rely solely on organic food...

  7. The easiest example is the dutch roses you mentioned. Without a published study, who would know that the dutch roses produce more carbon footprint than the Kenya roses. We thought that dutch roses are more green, just because Netherlands is nearer to UK, which is wrong unfortunately. Am I right?

  8. Some organic practices may produce less for a given area of land, but other produce more than "modern" agriculture. But agriculture today is not sustainable - it uses up the soil, pollutes water, and in the case of the USA, the runoff of nitrogen into the sea has produced "dead zones" in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic sea board. So farming must change if we are to feed people long term - if not to organic, at least away from the present model. Also, most fertilizers and pesticides are made from gas and oil, not to mention the oil used in farm machinery and food transport - another problem that will get worse with time.

    I hope my comments aren't too long, but it is an important topic and as your post points out, not as simple as we might first think. Thanks.

  9. panda
    Perhaps I will write another post on organic food. Then we can discuss further...

  10. Interesting facts! Really helps one to re-think and re-investigate what is truly "green"!

  11. kai
    It's really not easy to be "green".