What Does “Green” Really Mean?

Lately, the word “green” is re-tweeted from everyone’s lips (and electronic devices), from marketers to start-up entrepreneurs to laid-off corporate job-seekers. It has been identified as the latest buzz-word with which to get a foot in the door for an interview, or as the new competency that will give one candidate the edge over another for employment. There are certification programs in “green” technology, marketing, manufacture. Obama pledged, during his candidacy, to promote “green jobs” as a vehicle for getting the economy back on its feet.

(Copyright Jim Henson, Sesame Street. With deep gratitude to Kermit the Frog)

But what does “green” really mean? Close your eyes for a minute and really think about what comes to your mind when you hear the word “green.” Key into the emotional context. Try to visualize how green living and green technology manifest themselves in your mind’s eye. I would venture to say that for most of us, “green” is a feel-good concept that hangs vaguely on the horizon of our daily consciousness; a nice-to-have, but not a mandate, especially since most green things are more expensive than non-green things (and economy is foremost on our minds these days). Hybrid cars, for example, cost significantly more than non-hybrid cars, and are harder to get. Solar energy is great for the environment, and eventually saves money over conventional electricity, but the installation costs seem insurmountable for most homeowners, so most people stick with coal- or nuclear-generated electricity and natural gas. Recycled paper products often cost more than virgin wood products.

“Green” means different things to different people. But lest the term should pass, unexamined, into our everyday parlance, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the word “green” means.

When I hear the word “green,” it conjures up in my mind a utopian globe, where clean streams empty into blue oceans teeming with millions of species of happy fish, beautiful whales and dolphins, while contented flocks of birds, butterflies and dragonflies flutter overhead, protected from ultraviolet solar rays by a healed ozone layer. Factories are all compliant with stringent regulations that prohibit air, water, and soil pollution. CEOs of multinational corporations are happy to be responsible, and have a great sense of personal satisfaction in keeping water, air, and food safe for everyone across the globe, because they feel invested in being part of one big global family, knowing that we need to look out for one another. The thirst for profit does not a motivate deforestation, strip-mining, sweat-shop labor, prostitution, child slavery, nuclear pollution, war, or any other form of large-scale wrongdoing, because everyone knows that if we all work intelligently together, there are plenty of resources for everyone, and if we all show love and consideration for one another, we will all get it back a thousand-fold. All food is organically grown with no pesticides or genetic engineering, and everyone in the world has access to clean water, nutritious food, and a nice, comfortable place to live. We are all vegetarians, because we all deeply believe in the rights of animals, as well as humans, to live with dignity. No one works for less than minimum wage anywhere in the world, and workers are treated with respect and fairness and when they get old, they and their families are taken care of. Everyone has high quality healthcare and access to sustainable wellness programs. Education of everyone, everywhere, is a priority, at every level of society, from the local community to the international community. Conflict resolution is a basic premise of human interaction and as such, it is taught and reinforced throughout a person’s life. Greed, jealousy, and violence are universally recognized as social illnesses for which humane convalescent centers and effective retraining programs are in place. There are no prisons and no death penalty, because we deeply understand that everyone, with proper care, treatment, and integration into society, can be a loving, productive, and fulfilled human being. Huge employment opportunities exist in the social services sector, because we have learned, as a global society, that humans are our most valuable resource, and the cultivation of the human mind as our richest, most renewable resource, is the universally accepted priority.

I think it’s funny that so much time, energy, and conflict are wasted over trying to obtain “energy:” Nuclear energy, petroleum-based energy, coal energy. We ravage our own land and seek to own others’ land in order to control our ever-increasing demand for energy. I recently heard a senator saying something to the effect that “we need MORE oil, MORE coal, MORE nuclear power, MORE energy.” When are we going to wake up and see that we have all the energy we need inside of ourselves?

We are going to learn to be green by learning to listen to ourselves. We can begin by making personal choices and personal vows to be mindful of how we use our own resources. A lot has been written (and is being practiced) about how we can be earth-friendly: become a vegetarian, buy fair trade coffee and other products, bring a cloth bag to the grocery store, grow your own food, ride a bicycle to work instead of driving a car. We can continue to be green by treating one another with respect and kindness. This is a great place to start. We can reduce the amount we eat, the hours of electricity we burn, the miles we put on our cars. We can work close to home, starting e-businesses and telecommuting. All of these things reduce our carbon footprint and make us less frazzled.

To be truly green, we also need to be willing to change our thinking about our “way of life.” When you lose your job or take a cut in hours (as so many have lately), you find out just how little money you can live on. At first, it feels like the world is going to end: dinners out, new clothes, trips to the museum, concerts, vacations, and other luxuries you were able to indulge in become casualties of your shrunken budget. People find they can no longer maintain the expensive rent or mortgage payments they once made, can’t send their kids to the expensive colleges they had their sights set on, can’t afford their expensive health club and other memberships. Living on less money is a humbling process, but it is a process that brings us closer to the earth. In India, over 1.2 billion people live closer to the land than we in the U.S. do. People make things by hand with natural materials, many live in what we would regard as poverty, and yet, according to those I know who have traveled and lived in India, even the poorest people of the lowest caste often live a very rich and fulfilling life, supported by family, friends, a deep connection with spirituality, and a sense of their place in the human fabric and the natural order. They are able to live on a tiny fraction of what we consider a living wage in the U.S, yet they are happy and make very little impact on the environment.

If we can begin by making little changes in our lives, big changes will follow. I don’t want to knock anyone for trying to get on the “green” bandwagon in order to find a job. I would just ask that you take the time to reflect on what “green” really means to you, and to make a real, personal commitment to changing the world, one small step at a time.

A couple of decades ago, the slogan was “Think globally, act locally.” That has never been more true than it is today. A single mind, acting conscientiously, can have a huge influence on the planet. We all have it within our power to think globally and to make a personal commitment to improving the world, one small, green step at a time.

Here is a link to an organization that is doing something very green: The Global Women’s Water Initiative. They will be at the Green Festival, coming up on Saturday and Sunday, April 9 & 10 at San Francisco’s Concourse Exhibition Center. Please check them out; it sounds like a winner.


Author: Writewireless

I am a thinker, educator, and writer, who teaches English, French, design, and career skills. My articles and posts about being human, teaching, careers, parenting, travel, and world affairs have been published in various newsletters, websites, and blogs. I currently teach and inspire young people to write and to explore the world.

8 thoughts on “What Does “Green” Really Mean?”

  1. A beautiful world, Anne, where “clean streams empty into blue oceans teeming with millions of species of happy fish, beautiful whales, and dolphins, while contented flocks of birds, butterflies, and dragonflies flutter overhead, protected from ultraviolet solar rays by a healed ozone layer”.

  2. Hi Anne,

    Your writing is very nice! I think you would like the book The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight by Thom Hartmann.

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