What is Being Green?

I got to wondering about this after meeting so many great people who think we’re really “green” at Alvecote Wood, and because of the debates going on about “green government” and the “green economy”.  So what does the word “green” mean (apart from a colour between yellow and blue in the light spectrum)?  What does “eco” mean?  And are we green or eco because of what we do, or what we think, or how we live?
The term “green” can mean so many things, and conjure up many images of which these are only a few
  • A political party with a philosophy of sustainable living and social justice
  • Living the Good Life – smallholding and growing your own
  • Living a low energy, off-grid sort of lifestyle, short on home comforts but big on self-satisfaction.
  • Attempting to minimise your impact on the planet.
  • Making gestures, such as putting out your recycling, buying recycled goods, planting a few trees or a wildlife area in your garden, buying a lower energy TV.
  • Dropping out of society and living in a yurt, wearing hemp trousers and smoking mind-altering substances (apologies for the stereotype!)
  • Putting turf on your roof.
  • Riding a bicycle instead of using the car.
To me, the term “green” or “eco” is complicated.  We do many things that are not “green”.  We drive a vehicle.  We live in a house in a town.  We buy stuff, probably stuff that we don’t always need, and quite probably stuff that at least some of the time isn’t ethically produced or “eco”.  We use chemicals sometimes.  We use tools powered by fossil fuels to maintain the woods.  I have to take a lot of medication because, like it or not, herbs and natural remedies will not cure my inherited condition (cystic fibrosis).
However we also do a lot of things that would be considered “green”.  We own a wood and manage it for wildlife.  We plant trees and care for them.  We even talk to them.  We keep chickens.  We grow some of our own food.  We have a log-burning stove.  We use solar power, at least some of the time.  We buy old stuff and restore, re-use or recycle where we can.  We work from home and don’t commute (although that wasn’t always the case).  We use a renewable electricity plan.  We support wildlife and environmental charities.
So are we “green” people?  My view is that “green” is a way of thinking, rather than a series of actions.  Green means that you are mindful of the consequences of your actions for other people, for other species, and for the planet.  You may consider your actions and still choose those that have an adverse impact, but at least you have done so with a thought for what those consequences might be.  Also, the choices may be more complicated than you originally thought.
So, it seems a no-brainer to buy local, seasonal, organic food.  But in order to do so, you have to drive quite a number of miles to get to a farm shop, and usually, to get all the things you require, you have to visit several of these.  And most of the stuff stocked there isn’t organic.  So is it better to use an online delivery service (less transport impact) and choose seasonal UK-grown food from them instead?  And what if the organic option comes from overseas, but there are local non-organic options available instead?  I don’t know the answer, but the thought process is there each time I do my shopping.
And what about the woods?  Should we maintain it without using chainsaws and brushcutters and a tractor?  Ideally, yes, but the fact is that we simply can’t do that in the time we have available.  Should we avoid the use of herbicides?  Yes, of course we should.  But how, realistically, can we keep the competitive weeds from smothering our new trees in their first few years?  Manual weeding?  Of 5000 trees (4000 in Betty’s Wood and another 1000 in the rest of the wood)?  Or mulch mats which would be prohibitively expensive?  Should we leave the trees to their fate and suffer losses of 50% or badly compromise their growth?  Or do we want a healthy woodland that is fixing carbon effectively for many years to come, but at the expense of using something that is manifestly, neither “eco” nor “green”?  These choices are not straightforward, and we have made choices we would have considered to be wrong when we set out, and which we might consider to be wrong again in the future, but which have become right when faced with a task to be done and a goal to be achieved.
I think the important thing, the thing that makes somebody “green”, is that the individual considers these choices mindful of the impact that they have.  And I think that being green does not need to mean accepting a poorer, or harder, or less comfortable quality of life.  Nor does it mean reducing your expectations for the woods, or accepting a poorer outcome.  However it does mean you may have to be smarter, or use smarter technology, or accept compromises to achieve it with a lower impact.
I don’t think we’re particularly “green”.  But we are mindful, in everything we do, of the impact we have.  On people.  On other species.  On ecosystems.  On the planet.  If we can leave a small footprint and a large positive legacy, then I think we are a little bit “green”.

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