Environmental Stereotypes: Myth or Reality?

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An environmentalist, as stereotyped by people and business, is that no-bullshit, no-concession environmental proponent who won’t let you get away with anything and for whom whatever you do is never enough. Further to that, environmentalists don’t trust companies or individuals who start making a move in the right direction, labelling it as not enough or, in the case of companies, a marketing ploy. Business doesn’t know how to satisfy this stereotype, sceptics don’t like these people, and to be honest, there’s a lot of attitudes ascribed to environmentalists that I myself don’t like at all.

In a previous article I’ve said that I’m not an environmentalist, and it’s exactly for this reason. They are seen as extremists, the all or nothings of the environment. Finally, they are stereotypically selectively informed, not looking at the other side of the coin, and many times falling into argumentative fallacies because of it. If it doesn’t fit in their worldview, it doesn’t need to be known about. Every time I meet someone like this I have to mostly make the business argument, because that’s the side they largely ignore, and supposedly they know all the environmental side.

Like them, I am much frustrated by business and countries that don’t do enough and who don’t seem to want to do more towards the environment, but their unobtrusive attitude is a negative motivator, not a positive one. Their argument is the end of the world needing to be avoided, instead of being a more positive vision for the future being possible.

To these people I say that business needs to make money and some things are just not financially viable at this point. Furthermore, progress into a certain direction is better than nothing. Greenwashing has been done many times and it’s understandable that many people are sceptical when companies are making steps in the right direction, but, apart from greenwashing having become less practiced, as long as some research is made one can mostly find out what a genuine statement of intent on what is just marketing. Energy is another big topic that they allow no leeway with, as any step towards renewable or less polluting is never enough.

Even so, the fact is that this stereotype has been an exceptional counterweight to any company trying to get away with doing nothing but claiming it. It also became a preventative measure for half plans companies came up with. While companies haven’t taken up the “do it all and do it now” they have become more aware of “if you do it, do it right”, and that is a huge credit to environmentalists.

But on the other side of things, I am slightly part of that group, as I have said (and will continue saying) that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) isn’t enough and here’s the other side of stereotypes. People, from consumers to CEO’s, many times just want to do the least possible effort towards environmental”ism” and take credit for doing it. These are the people for who perpetuated greenwashing in the first place as a way to target more people. They are usually completely uninformed about how the investing in environmental practice could help the company/their lives in more ways than just by sales, and take no steps in that direction because “there’s no way that something good for the environment can be profitable/have a short pay back period”.

On a less uninformed level, I also criticise those who look only at the stopgap measure without thinking ahead, leaving it as a problem for another day. It actually shows a severe lack of foresight and irresponsibility towards the situation, especially when they are company executives or government operatives.

Instead of going on a tirade about how wrong they are, what is important for me is that neither of these sides are going to lead to a future where environmental sustainability is the norm or where we live in a circular economy idealised society. They aren’t the preconditions for cradle-to-cradle thinking or for a prosperous future with the environment. These are the extremes that are shaping uninformed environmental practice, the “who cares” and the “end of the world” mentalities. There’s a lot of good being done and that is the most important to me. These extremes are outplayed and outdated.

Environmental actions can be profitable and it’s no problem for them to be, and there is a genuine need to work towards the right direction. It also saves companies and countries a lot of money to do it. Steps need to be made and intentions set, but more than anything research needs to be informed and unbiased when evaluating what can and can’t be done as well as what has been done and will be done. Business needs to be able to perform and make steps in the right direction without being questioned about everything at the first move. At the same time environmentalists and consumers at large need to be able to trust companies towards them doing the right things, and that puts the onus on companies to actually to it the right way.

So this is my environmental frustration as living in both worlds. The reason why I say many times that “it’s not enough” is mostly not because of how much practice hasn’t been done, but because of the mentality behind it. I am critical of CSR because it’s not a company pervading mentality, instead it’s a section of the company tasked with it to not annoy operations. It’s a segmentation of the problem instead of addressing it and incorporating it as a whole. If the right mentality isn’t behind the actions it can really not be enough, but things need to be done.

 

Benjamin Tirone Nunes

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