Tuesday, 17 February 2009

What does 'Green' even mean?

The term 'green' is being used a lot right now. It's been this way for more than a year but I feel that we're reaching saturation point. There are green tourism awards, green babies, green car awards and most probably green coal fired power stations. It's like if you call something green, it is therefore sustainable and we don't need to think about it anymore.

I find this all a bit disconcering. A few weeks ago I went along to a conference at the SMMT. The panelists, largely from the ad and car industries, were throwing around the term 'green cars' all morning. But there's nothing such as a 'green car'. Even an electric car has to be powered by the national grid, after all. One day there will be cars that run on hydrogen and expel clean water, but those are not the cars the panelists were refering to. They were terming cars that emit slightly less than the biggest polluters 'green'.

At the end of the conference, Professor Jillian Anable, who has done some great research on drivers and their attitudes, asked whether she could play devil's advocate for a moment, and suggest that NO car ads should make 'green claims' as it mislead the public. She suggested that if drivers believed their car was 'green' this would give them carte blanche to drive all the time!

One of the more bolshy ad people shouted "NO! That's censorship!" (Calm down, dear. This is just a car conference. I'm sure you're actually a very good mind manipulator...). Thus ended the morning.

Seriously though, what does green even mean nowadays? It has become such a cover-all term that I fear it has been rendered basically meaningless. And who is this a problem for? Well, the Green Party of course.

I talk about the Green Party, ooh, 90% of the time - I am a politics bore, after all. And a lot of people say to me "They should change their name." The reason they give for this is that the name is a little meaningless now, the reasons for which are outlined above. Furthermore, since the party has a BIG challenge in convincing the public that we are not just about 'green' issues but also social justice and much, much more, the name goes in opposition to this quest.

Also, there are other Green Parties all over the world, some of which we have little in common with.

I have no suggestions for what the new name should be - indeed, like Professor Anable, I am indeed playing devil's advocate myself here - I am not sure a new name would be a sensible idea. After all, it would take us an age to re-establish ourselves under a new banner. (Having just shifted from my maiden name of Mitchell to my married name of Cope - hence the blog move - I know that even on a small, personal scale, a name change is an upheaval!).

But I think this is an interesting area and would welcome your comments and opinions.


  1. I wonder what Labour/Conservative/Liberal Democrat really mean? How does British Nationalism contrast with Scottish Nationalism, given the similarity of the names. The name Green ties us into an important wider movement and philosophy, is a useful adjective (for compound movements) and it's nice to have some element of political control over it. Also it's a simple straight-forward brand and a very nice colour...

  2. That such people are using the term is an illustration of its media power. It is up to us to limit and control the contamination and promote it in its true and positive context.

    It is not, to me, a coincidence that Green is at the centre on the Rainbow and the political spectrum and that Socialism and Nationalism are the, in some respects very similar, extremes.

    The Greens are only regarded as being on the “left” because the political spectrum has been hijacked and shifted to the right. Let’s shift it back.