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Are Wealthy 'Super Greenies' Really that Earth-Friendly?

Instead of pushing us to keep up with the Joneses, marketers wants us to keep up with the Greens. But green living doesn't require an 150K salary.

The “Super Greenies” are an annoying bunch. To begin with, they exhibit saint-like dedication to the green catechism. They bring cloth bags to the grocery store to carry home their locally grown, organic food and eco-friendly cleaning products; when they must drive, they make sure to take their hybrid vehicles; they use rechargeable batteries in the electronic products that they later recycle; they donate time and money to environmental causes. And on top of that, they are more educated and make more money than most Americans: more than $150,000 each year.

But, according to Scarborough Research, a company that provides consumer insights to media and marketing companies, Super Greenies also indulge in behaviors that are decidedly not environmentally friendly. They’re 60 percent more likely than the average American to own a second home. They’re 85 percent more likely to have spent more than $500 in one year on fine jewelry. Apparently they really like photography, and are more likely than others to buy cameras, as well as TVs, perfumes, skin care products, men’s clothing, and a host of other items.


This is why green consumerism is not going to save the planet. It’s been clear for awhile now that buying green laundry detergent and eco-friendly lipstick won’t make a dent in the world’s carbon emissions, especially not if the people most dedicated to those products are buying twice as many in order to stock both of their houses. Back in May, Bill Gates, who’s been investing in clean energy technologies, argued that on an individual level, even big green investments like rooftop solar panels are merely “cuteness.” Real solutions, he argued, lie in systematic changes, like an increase in large-scale solar farms.

It’s not that change can’t happen on a consumer level; it just takes more dedication, more effort, and more sacrifice than the Super Greenie lifestyle entails. In the aftermath of Fukushima, Japan is painstakingly bringing down its electricity use, and it’s requiring large-scale, government-mandated rethinking of cultural norms that include how high thermostats in businesses offices can be set on a summer day. (The new answer is: much, much higher than Americans are used to—from 82 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit.)

One of the most common complaints about eco products is that they’re expensive. But they're still held up as the ideal. Instead of feeling pressure to keep up with the Joneses, we’re feeling pressure to keep up with the Greenies. Perhaps it's time to take a step back and consider the simple ways for even Super Greenies to live earth-friendlier:

Fly less. Higher income city-dwellers tend to do so much jet-setting that they can cancel out all the environmental good they do by living in dense, walkable communities. Airlines are using more biofuels, but flying will always consume enormous amounts of energy, even if you’re in a tiny electric plane. Plus, ticket prices are only going up. Take the train, or skip the weekend jaunt to Europe.

Buy less. Scarborough’s media and marketing customers likely don’t want to hear this, but living green means buying less. According to the company's research, Super Greenies are into gardening, biking, photography, hiking, and yoga as hobbies. All of those activities can be used as justifications for buying more stuff. Pick one or two, instead of five, and buy only what you need—not some gadget you'll never use. If you have to spend $500 on fine jewelry, make it vintage.

Live in one small house. Less stuff means that a smaller place won’t feel like it’s overflowing.

This is also a problem of definition. Super Greenies should earn their title based as much on what they don’t do as what they do. That approach might not appeal to marketers, but it’d be more accurate.

Photo (cc) via Flickr user texantiff23.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

So for those with hearing loss, the chances of coming into contact with someone who uses the language are rare. Especially outside of the deaf community.

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Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





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The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

The poll found that concern for the environment isn't a partisan issue – or at least when it comes to younger generations. Two-thirds of Republicans under the age of 45 feel that addressing climate change is their duty, sentiments shared by only 38% of Republicans over the age of 45.

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