Alison's Writing Portfolio · On Culture & Trends · On People & Co.

The Green 50 –Inc. November 2006

This month, Inc. selected 50 of the most intriguing "green" or eco-friendly privately own companies in the country. I quick-sketch profiled four of the so-selected, Clif Bar, Eden Foods, Stonyfield Farm, and Zoots.

These companies make an explicit appeal to green-minded consumers, and that’s definitely a smart business strategy. After all, who doesn’t like the feeling of doing good while they do what Americans do best, which is shop?

The proliferation of green marketing makes it easy to forget that shopping isn’t quite the same thing as political activism. We won’t be able to shop our way to a better environment, as Emily Figdor, clean air and energy advocate at USPIRG told me recently. While all of the “green living” eco-friendly steps that we take in our own lives are wonderful, they do little to solve the most pressing environmental problems, which, despite all appearances, really have very little to do with the type of light bulbs in your house, or even the kind of car you drive.

What will really keep the icecaps in their deep chill, if anything can, is broad-based, climate-protecting federal legislation that will limit industrial emissions. (Industrial emissions contribute far more to global warming than all of our individual actions or non-actions combined.) “I definitely understand and empathize with people’s desire to make an impact in their own lives, but it’s really important not to get lost in that,” says Figdor.

The simplest way to do that? Vote. And write to your elected officials, sign petitions, exercise your franchise, make some noise. Don’t just look at the organic food in your cupboard and feel satisfied.

I understand this is a deeply unpopular and almost heretical sentiment in a can-do culture –to suggest that personal action isn’t enough to solve a serious global problem, and furthermore to suggest that the choices we make in our personal lives matter a whole less than the actions we take in the ballot box. We have a deeply ingrained resistance to this fact, as NYU sociologist Micki McGee’s points out in her fascinating book Self Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life.   As she told me recently, “individual changes are lovely, but legislative and policy change is always more potent than anything an individual might do.”

The old phrase, "think globally, act locally", could probably stand some revision.