Anyone who has heard the news in passing over the last four to five years will have heard the word ‘green’ pass the lips of every news anchor and broadcaster in the world. ‘Sustainability’, ‘climate change’, ‘organic’ and ‘fair trade’ are words directly linked to the green phenomenon of the 21st century.
Certainly there have been questions that have been raised as to why the popularity of an issue such as global warming has taken an international focus, but more and more of it is directly related to media coverage. Images of receding glaciers and polar bears becoming endangered have aroused the worries of environmentalists and celebrities alike. Documentaries produced by former Vice President Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio, entitled An Inconvenient Truth and The 11th Hour, respectively, helped to bring the seriousness of climate change to the forefront.
Changes to the economy have helped Western society realize the need for conservation, with soaring oil and grain prices, and the increasing lack of natural resources such as fresh water. Measures taken by the Canadian government include, but are by no means limited to, a carbon tax and participation in the Kyoto Accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Other alternatives receiving more publicity are the creation of bio-diesel fuel, using corn, vegetable and peanut oil, as well as “carbon scrubbing”, the action of capturing carbon emissions from factories and using them as fertilizer for farming after cleaning.
However, there are problems with the ‘green’ initiatives still to be addressed. Bio-diesel, while environmentally friendly, is not feasible for any vehicle other than trucks at least ten to fifteen years old. Carbon “scrubbing” although gaining popularity, has yet to be accepted by the Canadian or American governments. The creation of the electric Smart Car saved money on fuel consumption, yet still faces controversy on how often the battery must be recharged. However, the implementation of hybrid vehicles seems to have quieted the controversy, at least on the subject of vehicle emissions and climate change.
Even the fashion and food industries are capitalizing on the ‘green’ craze. Clothes are being sewn using organic fibers such as cotton, and marketed as being homemade. In the food industry, organic and fair trade items are making their way from specialty food stores such as Capers or Choices onto Safeway and other supermarket shelves, though for a higher price. Health concerns linked with eating genetically modified foods has the general public turning more and more to organic ingredients, believing them to be beneficial health-wise and free of pesticides. Organic food has also been embraced and promoted by vegetarians and vegans alike, although with alternative grains such as kashi and spelt flour to promote healthier living.
Organic and fair trade food is targeting people of younger demographics, starting with vending machines in elementary schools stocking healthier alternatives such as dried fruit chips. The restaurant scene has also expanded both on the main campus of my school as well as in the general public. Restaurants such as Nature’s Garden on campus serve fair trade coffee and organic, fresh food, with prices for coffee much lower than your average Starbucks, while The Naam on the West side serves up vegetarian and vegan meals to lineups on a daily and nightly basis.
Controversy has also hit the subject of organic and fair trade food, due to the advertising. Stricter rules have been implemented by the Food Inspection Agency to impose limits on the amount of organic ingredients or elements a food must have. Along with the questions raised about organic food, there is also the question of the re-useable cloth bags, now being implemented by specialty supermarkets such as Capers, and other supermarkets such as Superstore. Although implemented to reduce the use of plastic bags, which take hundreds of years to properly disintegrate in landfills, the question of how food would be frozen and protected from freezer burn should plastic bags be eradicated has yet to be answered.
More than restaurants and supermarkets, there has also been events and companies created specifically for the promotion of a sustainable lifestyle. Just a few weeks ago, the Epic Sustainability Expo was held in my city, promoting clothing, transportation, food and everyday household items used in an eco-friendly lifestyle. Leading this current worldwide promotion is the use of household cleaners with eco-friendly ingredients to preserve the environment. Fresh Squeeze, an organization with both Chicago and Seattle chapters uses its website and blog to promote the news of green initiatives in both cities before reaching mainstream media.
Although the phenomenon began over fear of losing natural resources and our sources for transportation, industry and the economy, it has evolved into being much more. Companies such as Nike, previously branded for unethical practices in sweatshops have been given the opportunity to redeem themselves through sustainability. Mountain Equipment Co-op, previously known for all matters of outdoor and camping gear has grown in popularity thanks to Western society’s ‘green’ lifestyle. In truth, if ever there was a need to group decades together by color, the color of the new millennium would be green.