Anna is confused. She loves shopping and holidays, and since green became the new black, she has been rigorously exercising her credentials as an eco-conscious consumer. She insists that only GM-free food passes her lips and uses Jo Wood Organics beauty products. She’s feeling smug that her Beyond Skin kitten heels mean she can give up wearing leather but still look stylish, and she adores her ethically made Adili silk dress. Last summer, she even took her family on holiday by train to the south of France instead of flying, and because she’s feeling a bit self-conscious about her Toyota Land Cruiser outside the school gates, she’s decided to trade it in for a petrol-electric hybrid Prius.
And yet, as she stuffs an eco pamphlet savagely into her recycling box, she cannot shrug off a certain despondency about the green movement. “I’m trying to do my best to be green, but I’m being constantly hectored about the choices I make, which irritates me. I recycle, I always buy organic and have horrible energy-saving light bulbs. I can’t really see how it’s going to make that much difference to the ice caps, but at least I’m doing my bit, aren’t I?”
According to Mori, 70% of us believe that an environmental crisis is on its way, but we are oddly reluctant to do much more about it than carry an Anya Hindmarch I’m Not a Plastic Bag shopper and recycle our South African wine bottles. For many, flexing our credit cards is an automatic reaction, because, thanks to a host of jet-set eco icons, green is glam, and there are now many ways to flash the cash to prove that we really care about the planet.
When Madonna was snapped wearing an organic cotton Bodas T-shirt and Scarlett Johansson ordered ozone-friendly Ruby jeans, the stars put their stamp of cool on going green. Ethically produced labels have meant fashionistas can dress with an eco conscience and still look good, while supermodels can take trips to the Cotswolds to eat eggs benedict at Daylesford Organic. Suddenly, going green was not about saving the planet, but about status.
“There is a huge amount of one-upmanship going on at the school gates between the green goddesses,” admits one yummy mummy. “There’s a real kudos to outgreening and outspending one another. One mother has a gardener for her allotment.” Last year, Sheherazade Goldsmith wrote A Slice of Organic Life, about surviving as an eco mummy, and Lily Cole penned the foreword to the ethical shopping book Green Is the New Black. This is where the yummies are taking their cues. In fact, 2007 will be remembered as the year when terms such as “carbon footprint”, “offsetting” and “neutral” entered dinner-party conversations and solar panels became a status symbol. It didn’t matter if you were buying lots, as long as you were buying green.
But glamorous green doesn’t work. Lady Bamford of Daylesford Organic revealed the hypocrisy at the heart of the luxury green movement when she admitted to flying by private jet because she “couldn’t be green all the time”. And Trudie Styler, the tree-hugging, vegetable-growing, chutney-making, Amazon-saving, regular little earth mother, has houses in Tuscany, Los Angeles and Wiltshire, and recently flew a make-up artist over from New York for a London shoot.
Going green is not a quick fix that can be achieved by splashing out on a pair of vegan Stella McCartney wedges. Face it, they might give you a warm glow and trick you into feeling you are living ethically, but are they actually going to help the polar bears? Buying organic, recycled, ethical clothes/food/cars/toys might be a novelty at first, but rather than increasing the quality of our shopping, we need to radically reduce the quantity. It’s an idea that fills us with terror and goes against all our conditioning.
“People have been badly misled about what it means to go green,” says George Monbiot, the environmentalists’ pin-up. “We are drowning in a tide of eco junk. The organic cotton shopping bags are piling up as fast as the plastic ones. There is a lot of feelgood consumerism going on that makes people feel better, but doesn’t really make any difference to the environment. We have to stop pretending that we can do this by buying a better brand of biscuit.”
There’s a rumbling sense that the green movement should be wrested from the hands of the luxury-goods brigade, that it mustn’t become just another marker of wealth in a status-obsessed world. This year sees the publication of a handful of books that focus on the real message: we must massively reduce our rate of consumption. Being green means not buying that cute little fair-trade clutch from DeviDoll, but using the one at the back of your wardrobe. It means accepting that a level of austerity might actually be desirable, and that buying another pair of shoes/jeans/earrings is not the best way to get involved.
“Our culture is fuelled by greed. We need to return to the elegance of enough,” says John Naish, the author of Enough, in which he argues that we must break free from an instinctive cycle of accumulation if we are to see real ecological change. “We should be developing a sense of personal sustainability, not just with the planet but also with our possessions.”
Mark Watson’s Crap at the Environment (published in April) encourages people to take little steps, such as walking rather than driving, planting more trees and wearing out clothes. The Self-Sufficientish Bible by Andy and Dave Hamilton (also out in April) is aimed at people with “limited time, space or money” who still want to do their best to live a more ethical life. It offers advice on how to make a wormery, forage for hangover cures, insulate your loft, bank ethically and make home-brew.
These are the new green heroes and their message is clear: you cannot buy yourself a carbon-clean conscience, you have to live the lifestyle as well.