Shades of Green and Environmental One-Upmanship 

By Grant Brown, Founder, Happy Eco News

About six months ago, I had the opportunity to meet the CEO and founder of a company I wanted to work with. The company operates in an industry adjacent to Happy Eco News, and I felt we could each benefit through collaboration. 

The meeting started well enough, and with pleasantries exchanged, we began to talk about our businesses. Having spent many years in clean technology, where an investment or other opportunity might happen on short notice, I had my 30-second elevator pitch in mind. I explained what Happy Eco News does, a little bit about my background and then asked the question; what about your company? 

Then, my counterpart began to talk about his eco-credentials. His eco-cred was undoubtedly quite strong. He had an environmental science degree from a major school, had turned his back on a promising career in a high-paying industry, does not own a car, lives a vegan lifestyle, does not fly in airplanes, and demands the same level or higher from his employees. He didn’t really even mention his company at first.

He then began to talk about “shades of green.” Because of how he and his employees live, he was of the opinion that their organization was dark green. Therefore, a dark green company was more virtuous than the other, lighter green varieties. Less dark green companies, like mine, it would seem, would be one step up from performative environmentalism.

But what was he really talking about? Was he trying to undermine the validity of my project? Throw me off balance ahead of some yet-to-be-determined negotiation? In retrospect, I actually think he was trying to impress me so I would want to do business with them.

According to the brief research and information I found on the subject (and at risk of paraphrasing and pigeonholing people with good intentions), the following is how I understand the shades of green to perceive themselves. 

Light green environmentalists believe that the solutions to our current environmental crisis lie in individual actions. Ethical or conscious consumption is a mainstay of this camp; organic food from a chain retailer and biodegradable cutlery for their takeaway food. The light green environmentalist does not see environmentalism as a political movement and may, in fact, support the continuation of the status quo over the uncertainty of political and structural change. 

It seems light, performative and rather insulting (even if largely true).

Dark green environmentalists, on the other hand, are all in. They believe that nothing short of a complete overhaul of society and global economics is the only way we will meet our goals of clean air, water and a healthy biosphere for future generations. Capitalism is at the root of our problems; therefore, we must tear it all down and start fresh with a clean slate. Radical political, social and corporate reform must occur. Anything less is a failure. 

This seems scary to me. I believe most would rather have a fair, democratic election than a revolution. A just transition as opposed to a violent insurrection.

But what about something in the middle? A movement that was meaningful and focussed on impact? What if this movement could bring people together instead of dividing them? What if we could satisfy humanity’s inherent need to build great things and solve great problems? 

Bright green environmentalists believe that the tools to fix the world’s problems already exist. Many of these existing solutions are technological, and even those that aren’t – such as nature-based solutions – can be augmented or sped up using technology. The bright greens understand that human ingenuity is unparalleled at adapting to change and achieving great feats to overcome a common challenge. They don’t want to destroy that which already exists, just make it clean, equitable and more efficient. They know that a healthy society is built with intent, structure and rule of law, not anarchy. They understand that we, as humans at this point in history, do not have time to tear it all down and rebuild before we reach a collapse. We need to overhaul the systems we already have, and we need to do it now.

I’m thankful for the dark greens. We needed them very much in the beginning, and in many ways, we still do. I think of them as society’s conscience. We need dark greens to protect our children’s futures and ensure environmental protection through laws and enforcement. The fire to fight is strong in the dark greens. They are our defenders and protectors; we would be lost without them.

I’m thankful for the light greens too. They have shown the world’s corporations and politicians that citizens are becoming aware that they can and should vote with their dollars. If big companies and politicians want success in the future, they’d better find a way to make sustainable options for people now. Environmental action is important for all people regardless of political affiliation or demographic. According to a recent poll, a full two-thirds (or 65%) of Americans want meaningful climate action. Imagine if only 50% of households in the United States made smart and significant improvements in their carbon footprint. If only 50% cut their plastic consumption in half? These are exponential growth changes that can only occur when we have mainstream adoption of green living as a lifestyle that is both comfortable and desirable. A lot of the technology to make that happen already exists.

I believe a bright green future is what the world needs. The environmental movement needs to be far more inclusive on all levels. We need people to desire a future where life is good, not because we have turned our backs on advances in science and technology or are just pretending to do good. We don’t need millions of people identifying as environmentalists; we need hundreds of millions identifying as environmentalists, even if they are only light green. We need them with us because it is just a better way to live for our neighbours, families and for us. I believe the only way to do so is to bring all shades along with us, even those that aren’t yet green at all.

I won’t be working with the company that I met with. Not because the owner is more green than me; if anything, I would like to be included in that circle of dedicated environmentalists. I won’t be working with that company because of this: we hurt only ourselves and our movement if we compete against each other in a silly game of environmental one-upmanship. We need to work together. I won’t work with them because I don’t want to be around people that find it necessary to bring others down to elevate themselves. 

Let’s all find the path forward together, correct the wrongs of the past and build the future we want to see. Take action, know action.

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