Greening, Not Green

James Shaheen

This issue marks the first step in our decision to “go green.” The paper you’re looking at is “FSC-certified,” which means the Forest Stewardship Council has determined that it comes from “responsibly managed forests.” According to the FSC website, the Council’s seal of approval guarantees that forests are “certified against a set of strict environmental and social standards,” and are “tracked all the way to the consumer through the chain of custody certification system.” Forests, pulp providers, mills, merchants, and our printer up in Vermont must all obtain FSC certification in order for us to call our paper “FSC-certified.”

Who knew? I confess, I didn’t. I’d grown too attached to the, well, less environmentally responsible paper—you know, the kind that allows for higher-contrast printing, that’s bleached snow-white and, for all I know, comes from the very tree in which Julia Butterfly Hill herself once perched.

But for the past few years now, my conscience has been nagging me. I finally came round to asking myself something very close to what Joseph Goldstein asks in his essay on global warming (see “Facing the Heat”): “Why hadn’t I spent time thinking about one of the major problems confronting our planet? Why had it slid to the backburner of my interests?” It’d be so much easier—and cheaper—to keep my head in the sand, but letters from Buddhists more responsible than I shamed me into calling Green America’s Better Paper Project director, Frank Locantore, who agreed to guide us through the thicket of rules, paper suppliers, and acronyms we’d need to learn about to go green. Not everything I heard made me happy. This issue’s cover stock, for instance, is what remained of our dwindling supply at the printer. “Go ahead and finish it up,” Frank advised. “It’s better than throwing it away. But you can’t use the FSC-certified seal because of it.”

I felt like I’d just flunked a test. And just when I was beginning to feel virtuous again (Frank was sympathetic and assured me that we were moving in the right direction), I came across Daniel Goleman’s excellent new book, Ecological Intelligence. It’s indispensible to anyone who wants to understand the true environmental impact of their consumption habits—or, for that matter, what “greenwashing” is: “the selective display of one or two virtuous attributes of a product meant to impart goodness to the whole thing” (see “How Green is Green?”). “Greenwashing,” writes Goleman, “creates merely the illusion we are buying something virtuous.” Can’t I get a break here?

There has been plenty more since then for me to chew on. In this issue, Allan Badiner’s overview of Buddhism and environmentalism opens with the question, “Does meditating on your zafu help us deal with climate change, or are Buddhists getting away with ‘sitting’ out the ecological crisis?” (see “Eco-Dharma”). And in Wisdom Publications’ upcoming collection of essays A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency, edited by David Loy, John Stanley, and Gyurme Dorje (Joseph Goldstein’s essay mentioned above appears in it), one Buddhist teacher after the next—including the Dalai Lama—compels us to wake up to the looming environmental crisis.

At long last, I’ve put up the white flag and have surrendered to the responsible standards of the Forest Stewardship Council. But “green is a process, not a status,” as Daniel Goleman tells us. “We need to think of ‘green’ as a verb, not an adjective.”

Okay, we’re greening, not green. I can live with that. Besides, Frank assures me that we’re well on our way already. We’ve ditched the polybag for most copies we’re mailing out, and in August we’ll introduce FSC-certified cover stock (their seal of approval will have been well-earned). We’ll also begin the shift to recycled fiber, and while we won’t be patting ourselves on the back (I’ve tried that already), I think we’ll all sleep (and breathe) a little better.

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