Much of the time (especially with the media), tree huggers are categorized as one group that sees the environment as an important — if not the most important — issue. Sometimes, though, you see references to a green spectrum: light green, bright green, and dark green. These “shades” of green all have the same ultimate goal — sustainability — but the approach each takes is somewhat different.
Light Green environmentalists advocate simple changes in lifestyle to benefit the planet. Such changes are often focused on consumer power — buying organic foods, recycled products, eco-friendly cleaners, etc. Alex Steffen of Worldchanging puts it like this:
The thinking is that if you can get people to take small, pleasant steps (by shopping differently, or making changes around the home), they will not only make changes that can begin to make a difference in aggregate, but also begin to clamor for larger transformations. Light green environmentalism, as a call for individuals to change, has helped spread the idea that concern for sustainability is cool.
So light green emphasizes individual concern, rather than political action. Since light green is very approachable, I think it’s is a good way to get people involved in the green movement, as such things as recycling, air drying clothes, and avoiding toxic cleaners are changes that everyone can and should make.
How does bright green compare?
In its simplest form, bright green environmentalism is a belief that sustainable innovation is the best path to lasting prosperity, and that any vision of sustainability which does not offer prosperity and well-being will not succeed. In short, it’s the belief that for the future to be green, it must also be bright. Bright green environmentalism is a call to use innovation, design, urban revitalization and entrepreneurial zeal to transform the systems that support our lives.
Bright green goes beyond individual action and sees the need for widespread change. Bright greens look at this in a positive way, pointing out that what is good (or bad) for the earth is also good (or bad) for us. In this way, it overlaps with light green.
Bright green thinking is exciting because it’s about building a sustainable future with tools we already have.
While bright green is focused on design and technology, dark green sees our environmental problems as the results of consumerist and/or capitalist thinking. The Story of Stuff could be seen as promoting a mild dark green philosophy, since it deals with the pitfalls of a consumer society. Other dark greens believe that as long as our economy is driven by profit and development, it will be difficult to achieve sustainability. This opposition to “the System” is appealing to some and deterring to others. A milder version of dark green philosophy might simply advocate returning to a local, community-based economy.
Then, of course, there is the fourth color: gray, which I call “inactivists.” These people see no problem with business-as-usual. There are some for every movement, and environmentalism is no exception. In fact, grays are often so outspoken that I do not really need to describe them. Some flat-out deny environmental problems, while others consider themselves neither the cause nor the solution. I should say that some inactivists have legitimate concerns, but the truth is, many are simply resistant to change or firmly lodged in old ways of thinking.
As I said, all shades of green share the goal of sustainability. I doubt that anyone fits perfectly into one of these groups; most Greens would identify with at least two. Still, having an idea of where your opinions fall on the spectrum can be beneficial.
Having said all that, I will close with a simplification. If you’re Green, your Green. But if you’re gray, it’s time to wake up, climb out from under your rock, and take a good, long sniff of the air pollution.
What shade of green are you?