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DOWNEY – Last week’s Editorial page in The Downey Patriot included an object lesson in the timeliness of all discussion on sustainability. Side by side was an article on a state-wide sustainability conference at Cal State Long Beach, a knowledgeable letter from resident Byron Dillon on the environmental impact of watering lawns, and an eloquent report from City of Downey Maintenance Services Manager Lea Sharp explaining the city’s rationale for removing and replacing unsuitable landscaping.
Meanwhile, across the page, Mark Sauter spoke about how to cope with power outages during hot weather.
While I hope to elaborate on Mr. Dillon’s comments in a subsequent article, what seems most striking about the confluence of these accounts is how the discourse on being “green” has changed. Forty years ago, “green” was just another color. Through many evolutions, beginning in the early 1970’s, it has taken on much new meaning, which, depending on your personal perspective, can be seen in its extremes as either salvific or repugnant. Early on some of this may have just been bad timing. The first Earth Day, though it was formalized by a Federal proclamation spearheaded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, was largely seen as a grassroots event on college campuses nationwide, in the same year as escalating student protests against an unpopular war in Vietnam. Bad for its image at the time was the fact that the date of its first celebration was April 22, 1970, coincidentally the 100th birthday of Vladimir Lenin, the avatar of Communism.
All too soon after that, a ship sent to protest nuclear weapons testing off the shores of Alaska in 1971 was renamed “Greenpeace.” Its namesake organization evolved into a multi-national association not only protesting nuclear weapons testing, but also championing various environmental causes. That group has seen a somewhat checkered history, and while stabilized today as both an international organization and the U.S.-based Greenpeace Foundation, this complicated evolution may have helped give our humble word “green” a bad rap.
While much federal legislation in the ’70’s was favorable to the environment, such as the Clean Air Act, the Water Pollution Control Act, and the Endangered Species Act, environmental causes came to be seen as cultic and confrontational, especially as young activist “treehuggers” seemed to embrace an extremist agenda.
The net impression for many has been that “environmentalists” are seen as leftist radicals just looking for more government regulation. And while some of this is true, a subtle change has taken place in the American consciousness over the last decade.
One of the most striking examples of this change can be found in American advertising and marketing. All of a sudden it has become totally hip to be green. Yahoo, for example, has an entire alternative website devoted to green concepts and green living, at green.yahoo.com. American Airlines tracks its own “environmental footprint” on its website, and Chevron envisions itself in advertising and online as a global contributor to the green conversation. Of course this public self-promotion has also given rise to another new and sobering term in this new green era–“greenwashing”–in which groups and individuals peddle falsehoods about how “green” they actually are.
Nevertheless, both multinational corporations and sincere individuals have devoted themselves to becoming better environmental citizens. In Downey as well, entrepreneurial spirit and sustainable principles happily coexist. “The Green Gardener” Steve Perez conducts his landscape maintenance business almost completely without the use of fossil fuels. And Coca-Cola Downey has implemented ground-breaking advances in conservation and sustainability at every level of its operation.
So, the next time you see the word “green,” remember that, though it has come to mean much more than just a color–it’s not a 4-letter word.
Lars Clutterham is a Downey resident and charter member of the city of Downey’s Green Task Force and Downey Chamber of Commerce’s Green Committee.
Published: July 21, 2011 – Volume 10 – Issue 14