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“Gateway Drugs” to the Green Economy

Scott Cooney | Monday May 24th, 2010 | 0 Comments

In high school, we were warned against using marijuana, not necessarily because marijuana itself was that bad for you, it was the fact that the use of marijuana would lead to other, more unhealthy drugs.  It was referred to as a “gateway drug.”

The concept is equally applicable to many other aspects of life.  Running a 5K is a gateway drug to doing half marathons.  Car camping is a gateway drug to backpacking.  Having a pet is a gateway drug to having a child.  You get the idea.

Recently, at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, I heard a speaker refer to sustainable food as the “gateway drug to the green economy” because, well, everybody eats.  It was a eureka moment for me, as some of my closest friends and family have really yet to catch on to the irresistible force of the green economy.  I’ve been wondering how to communicate that green is the future (and the present, for many of us already living and loving it) to people who traditionally tune in to Rush Limbaugh as their source for personal guidance. The bottom line for those of us who care that we’ll need 2.5 earths to feed 9.6 billion people, is that we need to communicate these things clearly to folks who lie on the other end of the political spectrum.  Politics aside, we’re all breathing the air and drinking the water.  A simple google search for related terms (some interesting and/or funny results below) shows that there are a lot of people writing about the gateway drugs to the green economy.  So, 3p readers, tell us about your gateway drugs to the green economy that have helped you to help others dip their toe in before finding out that it’s really pretty awesome over here?

As May is social entrepreneurship month, I’d like to cast my vote for the local social entrepreneur.  I’ve found that doing well by doing good is the clearest recruiting tool for my business-first family.  Make a profit, and people will start lining up.  It’s like a Pavlovian response.  Profit = drool.

Alison Withers, of McGill University, argues that on campuses, recycling is the gateway drug.  Once there’s a system (i.e., bins in place and signs saying what goes where), and other people are around you doing it, why not?  It’s easy, makes you feel good (or at least better) about your personal waste, and connects you immediately to the concept of cradle to cradle manufacturing, even if you don’t call it that yet.

Lee Schipper, of VisionsForTomorrow, cites pollution being “in your face” as a prescriptive element for changing personal and community behaviors. In his example, where cities in China have horrific air pollution, and most transportation is outdoors (foot, bike, buses with open windows, horses, etc.), people can’t simply roll up the windows and use the filter in their A/C to escape the exposure.

Jason Mark, of Change.org, sites sustainable food, specifically urban farming, as a gateway drug.  He says, “hordes of volunteers that descend on our farm every week are trying to connect with the old Wendell Berry aphorism that “eating is an agricultural act.” Foodies’ insatiable enthusiasm has translated into an equally powerful curiosity about agricultural production.”  For city dwellers, connection to food is sometimes hard to maintain and establish.  The enormous popularity and explosion in the number of farmer’s markets in the last twenty years indicates there is a powerful yearning to restore that connection.  Clearly, though, when there are green spaces and a connection to our ancestral roots, people become curious and want to find out more.  Which leads us to…

Ecopsychology.  3p’s own Deborah Fleischer wrote a brilliant piece on new peer-reviewed research showing that exposure to nature can dramatically improve mood and alleviate health problems like depression, high blood pressure, and anxiety (not to mention boredom, affluenza, and keeping up with the joneses).  Does hiking lead to caring about the world enough that people might start bike commuting and eating less meat and processed foods?  You bet….it was absolutely my gateway drug.

In the April edition of Sustainable Industries Magazine, L. Hunter Lovins is attributed as saying that “hypocrisy is the first step toward real change.”  Greenwashing, in effect, is the first dipping of toes into the waters of the green economy for many companies.  First they say it, then they actually want to believe that they’re doing it, then they actually try to do it.  On a personal level, people may first state that they recycle, for instance.  Or buy organic milk.  If they get approval and feel acceptance, they’re more likely to continue.  Jon Nicolow, on NPR’s blog, argues exactly that–if results are good from initial efforts at entering the margins of the green economy, the individual or company is likely to see it as a friendly path forward.

Of course, there’s always food.  A post on the blog Renegade Health says that organic, raw Blueberry Chocolate Pie is a gateway drug.  Yep.  That would probably have also worked for me.

What’s yours?

Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business (McGraw-Hill), principal of GreenBusinessOwner.com, and is celebrating Social Entrepreneur month like it’s 1999.


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