Progress Isn’t Green

The corporate appropriation of the green movement suggests that traditional environmentalism is dead.

Progress Isn't Green

I remember when the call to “be green” had some revolutionary potential: it served as a rallying point for those of us who felt that corporations were trashing our planet in favor of short-term profits. By demanding that corporations go green, we hoped to draw attention to the long-term consequences an economic model based on infinite growth had on our planet’s finite resources. Although “being green” was never clearly defined, it had something to do with acting in accordance with nature. The implicit argument was that the current way of doing business was essentially not green. Looking around at advertisements today, however, I notice that the corporations who claim to be the most “green” are the same ones that we hoped the environmental movement would defeat: oil companies, large-scale developers and warehouse-size shopping centers.

The other day I passed a huge fleet of machines cutting down trees and digging a massive hole in the ground. Before I could even start to think about the physical destruction of the natural environment, I saw a sign explaining that this was actually “Green Construction.” I felt comforted for a moment and then I realized that I had been tricked: there is nothing green about construction. There are two competing visions of what it means to be green: the original meaning and the appropriated meaning.

The original vision of “green” was that it would represent a cultural and economic shift – a point from which the future would look drastically different from the past. To imagine a green future was to imagine a world that did not resemble our own because we had, as a civilization, turned away from the path of industrialization. The second, more contemporary, meaning of being green is the one appropriated by the mega-corporations. According to this definition, anything permitting the continued, linear progress of industrialization is green. For corporations, any system that will enable humanity to continue to consume and ravish the earth forever is considered green. This definition creates the oxymoronic and paradoxical situation we have today: the top global polluters claim to be green.

We wanted a revolution but corporations want more of the same. So how is it that the green movement was so easily appropriated? My suspicion is that the appropriation of the green movement represents the death of traditional environmentalism. It demonstrates that concern over the desecration of our physical environment is important but not primary.

Advertisers appropriate every revolutionary idea and use them against us. We ask for a “greener” world and we get million-dollar ad campaigns calling our dying world green. As long as corporations are able to lie to us through glitzy advertisements, our desires for change will always be in vain. Only a movement for a clean mental environment, one that silences corporate communication, can give us the intellectual clarity to address the environmental problems that face us as a species.

Let’s clean up the info-toxins polluting our worldview and then stop the physical-toxins poisoning our world.

Micah White is a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He is writing a book on the future of activism. or micah (at)