Green Consumption: The Global Rise of Eco-Chic
The trouble with neologisms is that without a sample of context to draw on, they have no parameters of definition. ‘Eco-chic’ is no exception. It was originally a term to describe trendy environmentalism, but this collection of essays, edited by a pair of anthropologists in Barendregt and Jaffe, with contributions from academics in a variety of disciplines, casts a wide net in seeking to analyse ‘Eco-chic’ as ‘a set of practices and an ideological frame, but also as a widespread marketing strategy’.
The essays each take a different perspective of the green market: along the way, the reader encounters case studies of a corporate soft-drink giant wrestling with consumer-citizenship, a respectful partnership between artisanal jewellers and fairtrade miners and Basque cheese producers working under the aegis of the protected designation of origin scheme.
But what starts as a consideration of corporate social responsibility and ethical sourcing and consumption widens in scope considerably, ending with Barendregt’s own piece on the portrayal and use of tropical Southeast Asian spas.
The diversion stems from the laudable decision to show that ecological fashions exist in the developing world as well as Western urban centres. A study of dreadlocked counterculture in Ghana fighting the popular practice of living up to Western ideals contrasts brilliantly with a focus group of Canadian mothers expressing anxiety at purchasing the wrong brand of tuna. But by the end of Barendregt’s piece, you’re left wondering how you got here.
Which is not to say that the content itself is not interesting. The editors’ introduction arms the reader with cynicism towards the superficial marketing of ‘natural’ products and the DIY catharsis of consumers washing away their sins by buying sustainable toilet paper. This is, for the most part, reinforced by the case studies, which present the negative sides of a capitalist world that has forcefully taken the hand- spun reins of the sustainability movement.
The essay on mothers in Toronto is a particular highlight. Their intentions are noble, but the pressure to feed and clothe their family in a sustainable yet affordable way, spurred on by often-contradictory information, is ‘draining’, and their story illustrates the difficulties of being a conscientious consumer in an eco-chic world.
A broad range of expertise amongst the contributors ensures that perspectives are varied, though on occasion a bit full of jargon, and interested laymen and green academics alike should find stories of interest here – even if the book’s content, like the rise of ‘eco-chic’, is a bit all over the place.