Over on guardian.co.uk, the often insightful and informative “Environment” section has a regular feature on ethical dilemmas facing would-be green consumers. Past topics, now numbering more than 100, have included how to dispose of old cosmetics, buying fruit from Africa, the greenest shoes, and visiting the zoo.
A recent article looks at energy drinks such as Red Bull from a green/ethical perspective, and raises two particularly interesting points. One concerns the nature of the ingredients. While it would be possible to source the caffeine in these drinks purely from Fairtrade, organic coffee beans, in practice the extracted caffeine is virtually untraceable. Secondly, “[as] well as ingredient provenance, who owns and exploits the key ingredients also matters, as is evident in the battle raging for ownership of guarana.”
This latter point – on ownership of guarana – points to the increasing push into more socially transformative areas for “green consumerism.” A lot of the early impetus behind organic foods and green consumerism was pretty individualistic, though occasionally with an ecological emphasis (DDT and peregrine falcons for example). Neither of these is inherently threatening to the basic corporate capitalist structure. On the contrary, “organic” and “green” become just another new market opportunity. But the anti-sweatshop and Fairtrade movements have started raising issues that more directly call into question key aspects of capitalism, namely ownership and the organization of labor. If labor practices, property rights and control of resources in developing nations become a genuine concern for consumers in wealthy, industrialized nations, it will pose a genuine challenge to some of the more predatory aspects of globalization. All such moves are to be celebrated.