Shopping, however ethically, won't save the planet

In his column in today's Guardian, George Monbiot argues that the growth in 'green consumerism' is becoming a 'pox on the planet'. I agree with him completely. Everywhere I look I'm told that by buying something with ethical or sustainable credentials I'm doing my bit to save the planet.  The truth is that the only thing that's really going to  save the planet is if everyone in the rich developed world consumes less. Of course when we do need to buy something, using our power as consumers to ensure that its from an organic source and that its made sustainably and justly is vital. But as Monbiot says in his article:

"If it (green consumerism) merely swapped the damaging goods we buy for less damaging ones, I would champion it. But two parallel markets are developing - one for unethical products and one for ethical products, and the expansion of the second does little to hinder the growth of the first. I am now drowning in a tide of ecojunk. Over the past six months, our coat pegs have become clogged with organic cotton bags, which - filled with packets of ginseng tea and jojoba oil bath salts - are now the obligatory gift at every environmental event. I have several lifetimes' supply of ballpoint pens made with recycled paper and about half a dozen miniature solar chargers for gadgets that I do not possess."

Monbiot doesn't even begin to address the question of the green and ethical bona fides of the products that are advertised as such. I fear that the 'success' of the environmental and fair trade movements has spawned  a huge number of  products that  claim  they are green and just when they are probably anything but.

Earlier in the month the Guardian published Cloth encounters, which detailed the trials and tribulations that Annette and Hadley D'Oyly went through in their efforts to create a new range of organic, ethically made cotton children's  t-shirts.  Their story  clearly demonstrates that  producing products that don't damage the environment and which don't involve the exploitation of the people that make them isn't easy. It also underscores the importance, when we do have to consume, of looking behind manufacturer's claims to be green and fair, to ensure that what they say about their product isn't a marketing  induced case of greenwash.

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