Beware of putting too much faith in green role models

Humans have a natural need for role models. It’s an aspect of our behavior from the day we are born, when we look towards our parents and siblings for guidance on the road of life. As we grow older, we start to broaden our search – our role models may include celebrities or powerful organizations.

Perhaps you can remember the first time you discovered a role model who wasn’t what he or she seemed, or maybe even turned out to be thoroughly corrupt? It can be a gut wrenching experience and derail our own efforts in whatever we looked up to them for.

The environmental movement and the individuals within it are by no means immune to the imperfections and corruption found throughout all aspects of society.

It was recently pointed out to me that I’m a role model in the green sphere. I really don’t want to be that guy. I can’t be that guy. I’m not that guy. I resist interviews, book deals, conferences and speaking invitations for that reason. I simply cannot and do not wish be a role model. To go down the “celebrity” path would be my total undoing; I’m just not cut out for it.

But even in my current capacity tapping away here at a keyboard, I am a long, long, long way from living as green a life as I could be. There’s lots of other folks far further down the track than I am. I often learn from them and then pass on the message and tools – as do so many other writers in this niche.

I often mention my weaknesses in my articles to show I am a rather ordinary person, not an environmental guru who has achieved green nirvana and to demonstrate that going green isn’t an all or nothing event. It’s a journey and often a long one with many stops and detours along the way due to the complexity of our lives and previous conditioning we have undergone.

My efforts on Green Living Tips aren’t totally altruistic either as the site does generate some income for me, without which I couldn’t put as much time into it as I do. Green living is a topic I’m truly passionate about and I’m effectively writing my own “How To Go Green” manual as much for myself as for others – it’s a manual I’ll likely be writing for many years to come.

With the people I look towards, I bear in mind that they are human too and I don’t take all they say as gospel, nor use what they appear to be as a benchmark for my own progress. I measure my own progress by comparing where I am now to where I was this time last year in terms of knowledge and application.

While I have no role models, I have hundreds of teachers, some of them GLT readers. I take the value each person has to offer and ignore what I don’t think is right or valuable. For example, for a person to advocate and be really knowledgeable about solar power, yet they drive a Hummer; it doesn’t make them evil or necessarily hypocritical. They may have a reason for the Hummer or they are just at a particular point of their green living journey. The Hummer may be next thing to go on their own checklist, so to totally disregard what they have to say about solar power based on their driving habits is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

When it comes to environmental organizations, the same sort of deal applies. The imperfections can be amplified as these groups may be run by hundreds of people – all with their own chinks, defects, bumps and scratches. At times there are also more nefarious elements within their ranks.

Green groups usually start out as a small band of very idealistic individuals, one hundred percent dedicated to their cause and seemingly impervious to corruption. That becomes the benchmark we hold them to.

But as they grow; some unsavory folks will tend to infiltrate who are more interested in aspects of power and prestige. Perhaps “moles” from organizations representing what the group opposes may gain positions within the group and destroy from within – yes, it does happen as there’s billions of dollars at stake. One such person, strategically placed, can bring down an entire organization made up of thousands of people doing their best to stay true to the cause.

Environmental groups may also start making trade-offs as they grow, abandoning some values in an attempt to achieve what they believe is a greater good. This is an incredibly slippery path.

Deals are struck, compromises made and then the piper demands to be paid. For example, what happens when a company sponsors an environmental group and then that company is involved in an environmental disaster or some other type of eco-mischief? Does the group chastise the company as much as they would others? Will they bite the hand that feeds? Sometimes, no.

Some groups have also become very corporate, losing touch with their roots and so bogged down in process, donations are increasingly swallowed up by administrative costs and what should be their core activities suffer. As it can be a slow transition, they may not even be aware it’s happening until it’s too late. It is not a conscious evil, more a slow developing cancer.

I’ve experienced this ‘corporatization’ of environmental groups first hand. I won’t mention the group’s name, just that they are incredibly powerful. I was working for a green-leaning company who wanted to donate X% of proceeds from sales to the group. All we wanted in exchange was to be able to identify ourselves as a contributor to their organization – it’s a common business practice that isn’t just warm and fuzzy, but also helps to make a statement that attracts like minded customers.

When our negotiations began, I expected them wanting all sorts of audit information about the company, for us to have to prove our green street-cred before anything went further. There was nothing of the sort. All there was were a list of demands, mostly relating to money. I can’t remember there being a word about ideals and values or the environment for that matter. We may as well have been sponsoring a football player. It was terribly formal and didn’t at all reflect the earthy feel they promote. It left a really bad taste in my mouth.

Other groups are more concerned with grabbing headlines than anything else; with the cause the secondary objective rather than primary. Often they’ll do their cause more harm than good, mistakenly believing that any press is good press.

It’s not right, but this is how the world works and why our planet is the way it is now. Green or not, most of us have the capacity for corruption. I’m not protecting these flaws at all, it’s just indicative of how corrupt we are as a species and it’s only when we recognize this corruption or potential for corruption in ourselves will we be able to learn, evolve and live harmoniously with nature and the rest of humanity.

So, should you stop looking towards these groups for information, perhaps even cease financial contributions to environmental organizations altogether? Not necessarily, but do ask questions and hold them to high standards as you are sponsoring their efforts.. both good and not so good. Find out how much of your hard earned cash is going towards supporting their administrative structure.

Don’t be afraid to speak out or shift allegiances at the drop of a hat if you find what they are doing is against your principles and they refuse to change. If enough donors or members of a group start dropping away, it gives the group pause for thought and encourages a bit of soul searching.

Remember that while a group may seem to be the only one doing anything or able to do anything, that’s often because they have the money, which gives them power and consequently, media attention. Reroute the money and the power goes elsewhere – to perhaps another group that may just get it right.

Learn from others, support the groups you think do some good and continue to fight the fine green fight..but be your own green role model. Look for teachers, not gurus. Don’t let another person or group’s failings discourage you from attaining your green living goals.