Why “Green” is Dead

By Scott Sidler • January 21, 2019

why green is deadThe green movement swept across the country more than a decade ago promising to change the way we thought about things like energy efficiency, recycling, waste, and the environment as a whole. And while it brought it us some environmental awareness as a society, it’s my opinion that in 2019 we can officially write its obituary.

Back in 2006, the whole country was awash in green products and television shows on HGTV and DIY Network. We were all cajoled into buying carbon offsets from companies like TerraPass. Even major manufacturers jumped on board and began creating “green” product lines in everything from household cleaners to T-shirts. The future was going was green and the skies would be filled with rainbows and butterflies.

I too felt the excitement of changing the world with green ideas. I even had a television show called The Green Life all about living a green life that was optioned by a production company, but sadly never came to fruition. Things didn’t exactly turn out the way we hoped. So, why was that? What happened?

The Causes of Death

The whole premise behind green products and a green lifestyle was to live in a way that did no harm (or at least less harm) to our planet and ecosystems. While I still see this as a noble goal, and one that can be attained by individuals, in 2019 I recognized that it will never happen in a way that will make a dent.

Cause #1 Replacement Mindset

America has taken the red pill and gone down the rabbit hole with Neo and Morpheus (pardon the Matrix reference) to an alternate worldview that we can no longer awaken from. We are now a culture with a replacement mindset, and a replacement mindset is the complete antithesis of green ideals.

We don’t fix things anymore. When they break, we throw them away and buy a new thing. Got a hole in your sock? Tell me the truth, do you sew it up or throw it away. If I’m being honest I’m talking to myself here too! We have access to so much stuff now at such low prices that repair is just not worth our time. Trash it and replace it.

We have applied this same principle to everything from socks to buildings. We tear down old buildings because…well, because they are old. Not because they are too far gone to save, but because we want something new. We have been so conditioned to think that newer is always better even though that is only occasionally a true statement.

The green movement cannot truly thrive in a country where we throw away so many perfectly good things, even if we replace them with organic, pesticide-free, sustainably grown, ring-spun cotton.

Cause #2 Green Washing

I’m fairly libertarian in my political views. Usually, I’m a live and let live kind of fellow, and in this case my libertarian stripes shine true because I believe strongly that freedom always trumps regulation even if this statement flies in the face of what I’m about to say. Corporate America destroyed green products.

The first products that came to market were truly green products. Companies like Tom’s of Maine and Whole Foods were doing green and good for the planet products before it was cool. Then the green wave hit America and every major manufacturer created a line of “green” products whose “greenness” was only label deep.

The public stopped trusting that what we were actually getting was a green, responsibly manufactured product that was actually good for the environment and largely went back to the old standard products our grandparents used. The idea of green products was diluted so far that all the taste had gone out of the movement.

Cause #3 The Recession Started…and Ended

We had a major financial meltdown in 2007 and 2008 right when the movement was picking up steam. As is understandable, people turned inward to focus on self preservation. The environment and more premium priced green products took a backseat while we all struggled to pay our bills.

Then in 2016 when the economy finally exploded again, it was go, go, go to make hay while the sun was shining. We were too busy working our tails off for more money that we got sloppy and wasteful, as is our nature. It seems like green just can’t catch a break.

So, where do we go from here? The world has changed a lot in this last decade. We seem to have moved on from the original green ideals to new things. Better things? Who knows, but from my vantage point, the final nail has been placed in the coffin of the green movement and the world is left to figure out where it wants to go from here.

The  Obituary

After a decade of poor health and abuse, our dear friend Green passed away peacefully in her sleep. Born in 2006, a once vibrant movement with hopeful proponents set to change the world, it wasn’t long before she was battered and abused on all sides by corporate mis-management, insane economics times, and a culture that never really understood her. 

She leaves behind a growing community of makers and DIYers that hope to one day carry on the ideals that she once so proudly stood for. Green is dead, long live Green.

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10 thoughts on “Why “Green” is Dead”

  1. Green is not dead in Rhode Island. Solar farms popping up everywhere. Wind turbines as well. Older and abandoned buildings are being rehabbed rather than tearing down and building new.

  2. The Green movement here went nowhere in large part because the “Green” Party here, unlike the true Green Parties in Europe which are true environmental advocates, was hijacked by egomaniacs like Ralph Nader and Jill Stein who helped elect republican candidates including George Bush and Donald Trump who have had disastrous environmental records. What we need is a true Green Party that will be concerned with the future of the planet and not a shill for the GOP.

  3. I completely disagree with you. I retired a couple of years ago from working as a project manager in the electrical construction business and have always done my own home remodeling as well, always with older houses (the two I own now are circa 1890 and 1930.) I still get multiple industry publications that keep me up to speed with innovations. products and projects in everything from infrastructure utility construction to home remodeling. The progress in ALL those arenas continues to be VERY “green”. More megawatts of renewable energy, such as hydro, wind and solar, are being added to the grid in the USA than any fossil fuel or nuclear facilities. And innovations like LED lighting have led to lower residential and commercial power consumption, so much so that dirtier power plants can be taken off line.

    Many municipalities, like my own outside of Pittsburgh, have built “green” construction practices and materials into their local building regulations. Less than a year ago, my own small borough opened a new municipal building, including the police department and a library, that is fully carbon neutral and self-sustaining, with solar and wind generated energy, rain gardens and a water management system.

    The big union electrical contractor I used to work for which for decades specialized in building and maintaining coal, nuclear and gas fueled power plants, saw the writing on the wall and shifted to building wind farms and solar installation a decade ago and they are booming.

    On the residential side, I get several contractor-related magazines that report on trends and new products and there is still a huge push for green products and construction, as well as renovations that retain the vintage features of older homes.

    Yes, there are still wasteful homeowners who are what I call “fashion victims” (you see them all the time on those DIY and HGTV shows, whining that perfectly intact and functional bathrooms and kitchens “have to be updated” to reflect some fleeting design trend). But I argue that the ranks of those who fix what is broken and/or recycle existing architectural salvage is growing all the time. Building salvage companies are doing very well in my city and more and more useful items are being diverted from the waste stream to be reused. I just finished rehabbing two used vintage pendant lights for my own house and last summer installed a kitchen in the 1890 rental house using 80% recycled cabinets, counters, appliances and miscellaneous materials.

    Green is not dead at all, at least not here in the Northeast.

  4. I don’t believe it is entirely dead just slowed up a bit. I am a TOH follower and Insider member. Noticing they are using a combination or restoration pieces as well as ecological products. Nothing bothers me more to see old houses and building being torn down for no good reason. No good reason means somebody wanted the land to build something that doesn’t even fit into the neighborhood and destroys the look of the area. In October I took a long drive back home to Massachusetts by myself after 36 years. My fist stop was Cape Cod where my maternal grandparents lived. They lived in a quiet little cul de sac in Harwich Port. I found my grandparents house had been raise for some over sized contemporary thing that took over the whole landscape. No yard left. Probably took the house up behind it as well All the other homes tin the circle were unchanged. Should have bought my grandparents house. It would still be there. What are people thinking???? Wish municipalities need to be more protective of the older homes and buildings. It was nice to see all the homes I lived in still standing and in great shape. One in Danvers built in 1857 beautifully restored. Personally I do restore and repair anything and everything that can be. Too many pieces of furniture being made in Asia and poorly. Chipboard, MDF not on my list of supplies. As far as cleaning products go a great many folks are making their own and realizing some of the simplest and safer things in their cabinets clean just fine. Hopefully more folks will get on the proverbial bandwagon and start saving the old relics and protect them. Become more aware in other environmental things and follow through

  5. “The greenest building is the one that is already built”, something like that… a quote from Carl Elefante, who is now AIA President. (Forgive me of inaccuracies, on my phone, on a train),.
    I hope the idea has a second birth, with more realistic expectations and better ideas of getting to sustainability without spending millions in a single family home. I’ve been in the “restoration/preservation” trades, so to speak since the great idea burst out into a trend. Many joined it like a religion, I approached it like I do all religions, wondering where the “leap of faith” was that would carry it over the Rainbow Bridge, so to speak.
    “Green” requires too much magic, too much money, too many people of blind faith to make it a real practice in the actual creation of a livable space. I am from a poor farming/ranching background, so the basic idea of repair over replace has always been in my box of tools, but you are spot on about speed, cost, and comfort. I have lived in new builds, and historic homes, I still crave all the newest tech for my personal spaces, yet I’m in the process of buying a 90 yr old house that has been completely “redone” by someone 10 yrs ago. I bought an amazingly well done building, the structure is sound, the original framing is still in the floors walls, roof, but how can I reject pex, all new wiring, on demand hot water, central gas heat, air conditioning… ? I cant. I see what my money gets in my community and I made a fiscal choice that fit my needs.
    “Green” has been used too militantly by the government of California in the last decade. Now all new builds are being required to have solar power in the next few short years, or possibly this year. The idea of “green” is a great one, but the cost and practicality is a completely different thing. The projects I’ve done with clients have always been directed first by a vision then built with actual materials, that cost a client their real money. It always is a recipe of these basic parts. I tell people what the idea of “green” is, always followed by the release from the dogma by telling them, “It’s your project, and your money”.

  6. We still use Vinegar to not only to clean but as a fabric softener, this way I’m not having to remember to clean the lint filter on the dryer. Oh and I’m allergic to most fabric softeners. I’ve noticed there’s aren’t so many emails about not using GMOs so I’m happy the small farmers won that battle

    And tools…they’re my addiction. I love tools from the 1800’s and will continue to repair and use them

    We have nieces and nephews that span 20 years or so from the oldest to youngest. The younger ones throw things away, one nephew had the audacity to say he doesn’t fix things as he makes too much money not to hire out. He doesn’t get the self satisfaction of a job well done. He will probably never have the opportunity to repair something and be happy with himself. I hope the great nephews and nieces have a better attitude.

    I once had a college professor who asked the class if they knew what was a farrier and blacksmith. Then he asked the difference. Of the 30-40 students, I was the only one who knew the difference. His theory was that in 20 years the Trades like plumbing and electrical would be where the money was, not a college education. I hope he’s still alive to see he was correct

    But Scott, you’re right. Unfortunately our society doesn’t seem to care much but for themselves. I think we have done a disservice to these young folks. We have taught them that failing is still rewarded instead of learning from their mistakes. Electronics have taught them that they don’t need to look someone in the eye or the meaning of a firm handshake.

    I’m hoping the pendulum swings back while I’m still alive. In the meantime I’ll keep sharing what my Dad and Uncles taught me to any young person who comes to help this old broad with the heavy work

  7. Another awesome post, Scott. And hey, I love Matrix references. Some author said recently that The Matrix wasn’t just a movie, it was more like a documentary about how our minds work. Yes. BUT, I’d say we had a Red Pill, then returned to the Blue Pill for a variety of reasons I’d love to go on and on about with you.

    You know, maybe “Green” needed to die in that form. Maybe her death helps some of us recognize the potential, the payoff in all kinds of human flourishing, the smiles it brings (like restored old buildings -and windows!), and the pitfalls of worshiping the (not so) Invisible Hand of Adam Smith. Not invisible (it’s called marketing, plain as day), but blind for sure, and really the concept has little relevance to what Adam Smith was talking about. Hmm, “Failing Behind Faux Philosophy” is a kinda cute saying for this maybe, Lol. Hey, can I put my Medium publication on here? Your crowd is my crowd (not that I’ve gathered one yet), and maybe between a few of us restorer/philosopher types (not a fan of “Philosophy” in the usual meaning) we could get some attention from the Millennials (don’t laugh!) as they take over from Belligerent Boomers! (Minimal offense intended -I’m one). Way too much more on this and more to come at https://medium.com/welcome-to-the-millennial-awakening
    if you don’t mind my putting that there.
    Between you and Artisan Army Steve and others, I really do think we can get somewhere. Thanks for posting.

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