Don’t buy green

Recent highlights from the Ideas blog

By Christopher Shea
December 13, 2009

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Two articles this week suggest that buying “green” products like fluorescent bulbs and recycled plastic toys can be counterproductive. In Slate, Ideas contributing writer Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow discusses social-science research that has explored the effects of such small actions on our psyches. Studies have found that the warm glow of self-satisfaction they produce leads us to relax our ethical standards in other areas of our lives.

In The Washington Post’s Outlook section, meanwhile, Mike Tidwell, executive director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, makes the more familiar case that small-scale individual acts are no substitute for large-scale public policy. He goes so far, however, as to propose that December be declared National Green-Free Month:

“Instead of continuing our faddish and counterproductive emphasis on small, voluntary actions,” he writes, “we should follow the example of Americans during past moral crises and work toward large-scale change. The country’s last real moral and social revolution was set in motion by the civil rights movement. And in the 1960s, civil rights activists didn’t ask bigoted Southern governors and sheriffs to consider ‘10 Ways to Go Integrated’ at their convenience.”

Use the energy you might have spent on green consumerism to call your political representatives instead, he suggests: “Demand a carbon-cap bill that mandates the number 350. That’s the level of carbon pollution scientists say we must limit ourselves to: 350 parts per million of CO2 in the air.”

The metaphysics of Rickey Henderson
The blog Benzene 4 notes that the following language appears on Rickey Henderson’s plaque at the Baseball Hall of Fame:

Faster than a speeding bullet, scored more runs (2,295) and stole more bases (1,406) than any player in history, combined power, plate discipline, flair and an uncanny ability to electrify crowds.

Cliche aside (“speeding bullet”? really?), the blogger notes that the text doesn’t say Henderson was faster than any other player in history, but than any player, period. Which would include Rickey Henderson.

“You can think of that as an editing error if you like,” observes the blogger, “but I prefer to think of it as a metaphysical conundrum. If God is omnipotent, is He able to create a stone so heavy that He cannot lift it?”

“How fast is Rickey? Rickey is so fast that he can steal more bases than Rickey. (And nobody steals more bases than Rickey.)

Design pirates?
Fast Company’s profile of Design Within Reach, the company that helped to popularize modern and contemporary furniture and home decor - and whose name can sound like a personal taunt - seems at first to follow a familiar trajectory: small company with idealistic founder grows too fast, loses way, company falls hard. Design Within Reach is now working to retool itself.

But then there’s the intellectual-property angle. Though the San Francisco-based company has helped bring attention to the work of a number of contemporary designers, it’s also been dogged by charges that it commissions knockoffs of acclaimed (by design-world standards) pieces. Two companies, the New York furniture-maker Heller and Minneapolis-based design firm Blu Dot, have sued DWR over the practice. But legal protection for furniture design is hard to come by. By changing details, DWR can always claim that it has improved a given product.

One example is the Sussex credenza, by the British designer Terence Woodgate - inspired, Woodgate says, by a clapboard-covered fisherman’s shack and once a big seller for DWR. Now the company offers, in its stead, the Dover credenza, which is credited to the DWR Design Studio.

“At least a dozen of the company’s current offerings are essentially unauthorized reproductions of a foreign design,” writes Fast Company’s Jeff Chu.

Christopher Shea is a weekly columnist for Ideas. He can be reached at