Fashionable Ecologism

The beginning of the organic movement had a mistaken attitude, because it didn’t place any emphasis on pleasure. It was an ideological, almost religious approach. It ignored pleasure. Pleasure is not antithetical to health, pleasure is not the enemy of sustainability. Pleasure is moderation, and with moderation we can be sustainable. An environmentalist or an organic farmer that is not also cultivating pleasure is just out of this world.

Carlo Petrini, Slow food: the case for taste (2004)

Examining a number of strategies to popularize environmentalism in the United States, Damien Cave of The New York Times presented a prescient (and humorous) argument for environmental branding in his 2005 article, “It’s Not Sexy Being Green (Yet).” Cave’s essay, in the “Fashion and Style” pages, drew upon the expertise of advertising executives, cultural critics, and environmentalists to, in effect, make being green cool. Reflecting on past environmental crises, Cave recalled the 1970’s as an era of malaise, symbolized by the cardigan sweater President Jimmy Carter wore while delivering his “Crisis of Confidence” speech (1979), a speech that encouraged the general public to reduce their use of energy. This infamous sweater, once denoting lower thermostats and a dwindling energy supply, seems emblematic some twenty-five years later of a challenging and less prosperous time, synonymous with a “righteous denial of fun” and an unfortunate fashion statement. Ironically, Carter was the first president to bring photovoltaic panels to the White House, a fashionable statement of the time that was promptly negated during the Reagan years when they were disassembled.

That environmentalism might escape its sartorial rappings, Cave recognized the need to resituate the green movement for the twenty-first century. Following a number of experts who advocated a newly branded environmentalism -including Earth Day founder, Denis Hayes, who proposed “the easiest way to make something cool is to get cool people to do it”- Cave suggested environmentalism’s spokesperson might need to be a bit sexier than Jimmy Carter, asserting singer Michael Stipe or rapper Mos Def would be better candidates. To this end, Cave advocated the employment of numerous branding strategies, ranging from the use of humor and self-deprecation to irony and satire, even suggesting “conservation needs to become more trendy than a line of sneakers”.

So, why not draw from a broader rank of artists in this quest for coolness? Bruce Sterling, for instance, sci-fi author and founder of the Viridian design movement, could lend his skills in satire, as evidenced by a number of Viridian spoofs including the “Welcome to the Greenhouse” issue of Whole Earth.

Lisa Tider, Ecologies of Access (2010)

Agence Babylone, Riverside Square (2014)