Simran Sethi is a green whirlwind, and she isn't slowing down anytime soon. A former MTV Asia host, environmental journalist Simran Sethi teaches at the University of Kansas and appears on the Sundance Channel’s program about eco-living: The Green. She also helped to create Treehugger.com, a go-to website for green news, product and design. We thought she was the perfect person to talk to about the importance of “buying green," and why it's still worth it (maybe more than ever!) in these leaner times.
Greenopia: What does "buying green" mean to you?
Simran Sethi: For me, I expand out to the whole notion of sustainable consumption, which means thinking about the environmental impacts of the products I buy and also thinking about the hands and heads that went into creating them. For instance, take a box of chocolates—oftentimes, the cacao beans and the cane sugar that go into chocolate are coated with toxic pesticides that leach into our soil and pollute our waterways. And a lot of the beans are harvested by young children working in African countries. People who work in sugar cane fields are often unable to support their families on the wage that they earn from their hard work. So we should try to buy chocolate for which we know the conditions of its production.
G: Is there anything out there that will help consumers understand a product’s environmental and social history?
SS: It would be great, but there is not a singular definition of sustainability—if you ask WalMart and Whole Foods and community supported agriculture, you’ll get different answers. So this poses a challenge for people who are trying to do the right thing and be socially responsible as well as environmentally aware. You have to ask yourself what are the values that you want to support with your dollars.
G: Why should we buy green?
SS: I think we know from everything in the news that communities all over the world are being challenged by rising petroleum and natural gas prices and the increasing cost of food. We are facing a crisis that is unprecedented in our lifetime, but we also have an opportunity to start to be part of the solution when we choose to purchase products and services that are green. Climate change isn’t going away, and some of the most vulnerable places in the world will suffer the effects of it. As Americans, we are 5% of population, but we create 20% of the world’s carbon emissions, so we should start choosing products that take less of our natural resources and create less carbon.
Buying green is a way to show that you want to build a legacy for future generations, that you want to extend your notion of community beyond your neighborhood to the rest of the world.
G: What’s the best way to talk to kids about going green?
SS: Well, kids learn by example, so we have to model good green behavior. That’s the most important thing we can do. They are getting a lot of information in school, but it’s also important to be a family that recycles and composts or prides themselves on not wasting food, or goes out and volunteers. This is one of the most powerful ways of learning, to walk the talk.
G: How can we help our family members shrink their ecological footprint?
SS: It’s not about pushing anyone to do anything, it’s about living by example. People want to be green, but they don’t know how. So you must be patient. I believe that we all care about the same things: healthy families, kids that are safe and happy, and a planet that our grandkids and their grandkids will be able to enjoy. We want to celebrate the outdoors, we don’t want to go to war, and we want to treat people well. Because guilt is a terrible motivator, it’s good to illustrate these commonalities whenever we can.
I live in a place where climate change is not universally accepted, but common sense is. So now, when we are facing unprecedented gas prices, people are talking about being energy efficient because it’s going to save them money, which is also a great reason to go green.
G: As a journalist covering environmental topics, you are acutely aware of the rapid decline of our ecosystems and our negative impact on the planet. How do you stay positive amidst all the bad news?
SS: I keep my focus on all that we have left. We have to enjoy it, preserve it, protect it and create solutions for the problems we have created. We have the opportunity to have a huge impact. We’ve never seen this kind of cooperation between different sectors going on. We’ve got businesses working with activists, environmentalists working with faith-based groups, and everyday people are changing their light-bulbs, driving less, and looking at the big picture of environmental justice.
It’s a groundswell of support for talking about environmental issues and there is a sense of urgency. There is so much more work to do and so many more people to include in the conversation. Where we started several years ago is not where we are today, and I find that very exciting and inspiring.