(RED)washing

Home_Left_REDAfrica.sflb_I care about the environment. I also drive a truck that only gets 19 miles per gallon (on the highway). It all makes me feel conflicted. So, I greenwash my life. I only drive to work two days a week. And, when I am home, I ride my mountain bike around the streets of Richmond. Well, except when the temperature dips below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. On those occasions, I drive. There are few things more uncomfortable than cold air tightly channeled through a bike helmet impacting a head that lacks natural insulation. I use a reel lawnmower. I do not use power tools. I use hand clippers, a rake and a broom. I compost. I landscape with native shrubs and trees. Indeed, I have a native wildflower garden that runs the length of my backyard. I use a drip irrigation system. I do not use Round Up or any other chemicals in my yard. I use the plastic bags in which my sprouted bread from Trader Joe’s is packaged to pick up dog poop. Indeed, the National Wildlife Federation certified my backyard as a Wildlife Habitat!  Who cares if we had to pay $45 for the plague? And, instead of using paper cups, I always bring my insulated mug to buy my coffee from Starbucks. Well, almost always. There are times when I forget. But, if I ever do, I make sure to take off the cardboard sleeve before trashing it. I carry it all the way home to recycle it. So, taking all of this green-inspired activity together, I think it fair to say that my truck gets at least 30 miles per gallon, at least.

I care about poor as well. But, I also want to buy things that I don’t really need. For example, I have a flip phone that is over ten years old. It even has an antenna. It still takes and receives calls. But, I have been urged to get an i-phone. I don’t know. I am not sure I want to be connected all the time. It all seems so complicated. And, I only pay 40-something dollars a month for my current cell phone plan. A smart phone plan would send my monthly bill above $140 per month. That extra $100 per month could go towards so many other things. It could fund micro-loans to the poorest of the poor. But, the i-phone is so tempting. It all makes me feel conflicted.

Do I really need to feel this way?

Maybe not, there is RED. The homepage reads “When you buy (RED) from the world’s most iconic brands, they donate up to 50% of the proceeds to fight AIDS.” Indeed, their tagline says “Buy Red Save Lives.” Wait, are they telling me that I can buy all of these things and still be a poverty fighting hero? Hell, yeah! And, Apple is one of their “iconic brands”! Thanks Red! Because of you, it looks like I can have it all! Just like I am used to.

Of course, (RED)washing our consumption is bull shit. We will not and cannot consume our way towards the end of AIDS, the eradication of poverty, or the elimination of social injustices. And, allowing those of us with the power, privilege and purchasing power to buy the “world’s most iconic brands” to believe that we can is just plain wrong. It is worse than wrong. But, my Mom reads this blog and I promised that would no longer use the four-letter word I want to use to explain how wrong it is.

So, if I do go out and buy an i-phone, I will just have to live with the shitty feeling that comes along with knowing that I could have funded four micro-loans from La Ceiba Microfinance each and every month that I continue to own it. And, that is how it should be.

Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (@blucollarprof)

4 Responses to “(RED)washing

  • Shawn, where did you learn to write *so well? I know it sounds iconoclastic, but I personally feel that you are at *least Seth-level. If not surpassing it. How many people read your blog? Regarding RED(washing). Does RED really exist? Never hear of it. But thank God that counts for many things still to be discovered. I don’t sync with your feeling conflicted, simply because I don’t earn enough to buy or work with the gadgets that feature in your blog(s). But I concur that there’s situations of potential inner strife, that can potentially lame you from doing what you *can do. Which would enable you to buy the iPhone (and not a Chinese clone, as is being done in India when you want to show off but don’t have the cash to do so). Talking about India .. young Indians (and we’ve got a lot of there over here) have found a perfect solution to the pressing problem of having what you can’t own (yet). They will park themselves next to an expensive car, house or hold someone else’s gadget and let themselves be photographed with it. The broad smile masks the unease of the house- or car owner about to step forward and say ‘hey, kid, what’re you doing here?’ And the next thing you know is ‘look-at-me-what-I-bought-today’ on Facebook. My advise would be: before you buy that iPhone, make sure you send out a $10 gift on Indiegogo towards that guy who wants to start a chicken farm in Malawi (I know someone who would!). That ain’t RED washing, that’s simply ‘not being chicken to do something good’! Have a fine day, Shawn. Looking forward to your next.

  • Why not buy a Fairphone? http://www.fairphone.com

    Bono’s RED and REDD (reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation) have certain similarities. RED promises to allow us to keep on consuming while stopping poverty and AIDS. REDD promises us to keep on burning fossil fuels while addressing climate change. RED doesn’t address the structural causes of poverty or AIDS. REDD doesn’t address the structural causes of deforestation or climate change.

  • Of course RED and REDD can’t address the structural causes of the correlating events of deforestation or climate change. And that is due to the fact that they let us – the ‘common’ folks who say to themselves ‘I don’t chop trees, I don’t produce kilotons of carbon dioxide’ – get away with continuing to be ourselves: the small consumers who by consuming the way they do, contribute to deforestation and climate change on our own scale but – thanks to RED(D) – can keep doing so, not being asked to leave our comfort zone. And that – feels great! We don’t want to leave our comfort zone when we don’t have to to do good. And RED(D) tells us: stay there, we’ll do good in your stead. Which is the RED(D) wash that Shawn spoke about, Gentlemen, we know this. Next is: the others 🙂

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