Finally, being ‘green’ is very cool

first_imgThe parking lot is packed on a typical Saturday afternoon at the Glendale Whole Foods store. Hybrid cars compete with Lexus SUVs for parking spaces while negotiating past shoppers laden with “green” reusable shopping bags. Inside, hipster moms, aging hippies, young college couples and upwardly mobile Latinos squeeze their carts down crowded aisles in search of recycled toilet paper, natural dog food, preservative-free baby food, free-range chicken and organic avocados. While they check out, they can peruse magazines about green living, yoga and vegetarianism and read pamphlets about wind energy. Certainly, Whole Foods shoppers aren’t the typical Los Angeles shoppers. But check out any Ralphs or Trader Joe’s to find a small but growing stock of environmentally friendly products and practices. Get money back if you bring your own bags. Even Wal-Mart is riding the green wave. So who says green isn’t cool? Well, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. He implied it the other day in a speech to environmentalists in Washington, D.C., where he expounded on how California is going to lead the way to a green future and anyone who doesn’t follow would find themselves “political penguins” alone on an ice floe. “You have to make things cool. You have to make them sexy and cutting-edge,” he said. “The new environmental movement is not about guilt. It’s not about fringe. It’s not about being overwhelmed about enormity of the problem. It’s about making it mainstream.” Arnold’s right about that. Fear of injury or death doesn’t change behavior – or we’d all be eating our two servings of vegetables every day. But what he doesn’t see from his vantage point of extreme wealth is that green is already gaining coolness among the regular set. Maybe it’s not sexy yet, but it’s definitely trending toward The Thing to Do. It seems everyone’s yapping about reducing their “carbon footprint.” All those Earth Days have finally made a difference. The critical mass might not have been reached yet, but it’s in sight, and that’s a place I never thought I’d be. Like most people over 18, I grew up in a world where it was not only uncool to save cans, it was kind of pathetic. My first experience with organic food was shopping with Mom at People’s Food Store in Ocean Beach, San Diego’s version of Venice Beach. As a teenager, it was the last place I wanted to be seen, among all the counterculture types who drove VW vans and wore “No Nukes” T-shirts and smelled vaguely of wheat grass juice. I grew up thinking of environmentalism as unappetizing, unstylish and kind of stinky. My first Earth Day celebration a few years later in San Francisco’s Crissy Field only solidified my view of environmentalism as being an unattractive subculture inhabited by people who cared passionately about hemp. My attitude slowly shifted as I got older and realized it wasn’t all about image, and as it became respectable to care about being friendlier to the environment. And here I am, 20 years later, buying organic, driving a hybrid, considering solar panels for the house and quizzing my mechanic about what he does with old tires. What happened? Who knows what makes attitudes shift? Somewhere in the past decade, even before former Vice President Al Gore’s movie, being green stopped being weird. And it ain’t just in California. Even the traditionally traditional part of America is seeing the cultural shift to green, though still in smaller ways. Whole Foods’ success selling healthy and environmentally friendly products in California, for example, has led to the opening of stores across America, including Alabama, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas – despite their unabashedly higher prices. Cool doesn’t come cheap. As for mainstream, what’s more mainstream than America’s super retailer, Wal-Mart? Earlier this year, the Arkansas-based company rolled out “Sustainability 360,” its corporate strategy to reduce Wal-Mart’s environmental footprint by encouraging suppliers to be greener and use less packing. With $351.1 billion in revenue, Wal-Mart probably has a lot of “encouragement” to throw around to the supplier community. The company also came up with “Global Innovation Projects,” which encourage employees to think of ways to make the company greener. Whether these campaigns are for real or just marketing is immaterial. The very acknowledgment by the Fortune 500 company that it must appear environmentally friendly to consumers shows that the company believes being green leads to making green. Other industries see this, too. The National Association of Home Builders notes an “exploding market for sustainable, environmentally friendly and recycled building products.” Carmakers understand that, too, and are developing more hybrids and more efficient gas users such as the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris. Whoever thinks going green isn’t becoming cool just isn’t paying attention. Mariel Garza is a columnist and editorial writer for the Los Angeles Daily News. Write to her at [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more