Thursday, November 29, 2012

Profit Focused Environmentalism

What is the real motivation behind most environmentally friendly actions? If I were to answer based on the information in many of the books and online forum discussions that I've read, I'd have to say that money is the primary motivation. I'm not sure, however, if that is accurate. It certainly is not my primary motivation, and I believe that to be true for others I know. Maybe, though, we are a just a fringe minority.

I've decided to write this post because of the amount of profit-focused information I keep running across in my reading. I've read more than one book lately that has listed profitability of an idea as one of its key benefits. Earlier today I ran across a post on a message board where the individual stated, "For a farm to be sustainable it must be profitable". It seems that many people share the belief that for any activity to be sustainable and/or desirable, it must be profitable. Is this a uniquely American perspective? Or is this view held by people throughout the world? Unfortunately most of my reading is of works by US based authors, so I can't really answer that question. I do know that I very often see a similar trend in comments regarding the US economic system. A lot of people believe that financial gain is the only thing that motivates people to work hard or have innovative ideas.

I suppose I should be glad that people are willing to switch to more environmentally friendly products/processes, regardless of their motivation. Doing these things just to save money, however, seems impure to me. It is like listening to a song written by a song writer who is in it solely for the money. Where is the passion in the lyrics? Also, I can't help, but to be concerned that this profit-focused environmentalism is just a fad. Without the savings to consumers, or profits to producers, would the demand for "green" products disappear?

As I was trying to think of environmentally friendly actions that many people take, without receiving a financial gain the first one that came to mind was recycling. When I was a kid my Dad would save soda cans to sell to the recycling center. Most people today, however, seem to recycle without being paid to do so. I realized, though, that there is a still a financial motivator at work with recycling. While individuals may not be profiting, there are certainly companies that are. Without companies who can profit from the recycling process, there would be nowhere for the items sent to the recycling centers to go. Without companies who can either save money by using recycled products, or can charge more for an item by advertising that it contains post-consumer recycled materials, there would be no market for those recycled materials. In other words, without the ability for someone in the process to profit, there would be no large scale recycling.

I suppose this focus on money as a motivator shows the priorities of our society. Where are the people who do their job because they enjoy and take pride in it? Where are the inventors who spend every free moment tinkering in their garage to come up with some great innovation, not to profit, but because that is his/her passion. Where are the people who turn off the lights when leaving a room, not to save a few cents on electricity, but because he/she believes it is the right thing to do? I believe that, while those people may be the minority, they are still out there. Regardless of what others might lead you to believe, there are people for whom profit is not a primary motivator. There are people who would choose to ride a bike instead of drive a car, even if the car and fuel were provided by someone else and would cost him/her nothing.

I don't know when we, as a society, became so obsessed with money that it became a more powerful motivator that everything else. It has been this way for my entire life, though, or, at least, so it seems. If people were as obsessed with reducing their impact to the environment as they are with acquiring money, imagine the world we would live in. There would be no mountain top removal in search of coal. There would be no oil spills in our oceans. There would be no clear cutting of forests to make room for shopping centers and parking lots. If doing the right thing was our primary motivator, we would look at the world we have created and hang our heads in shame at the realization of what we have done.

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