In Defence of Hypocrisy - In Search of The Sustainable Double Standard


photo: Johan Eklund/Creative Commons

When I wrote a (consciously) hyperbolic headline about guest rooms as the enemy of sustainability, I was soon accused of hypocrisy. But I'm not alone. Whether it's the moneyless man being accused of freeloading off others, or Al Gore copping flack for his gigantic carbon footprint, when it comes to all things green, accusations of double standards tend to fly thick and fast from both inside and outside the environmental movement. But it occurs to me that we need to be careful. Holding people to their word is fine to a degree—but hypocrisy is often the first step toward personal change.This touches on topics I've covered plenty of times before. Whether it's asking if morality matters in saving the planet, or encouraging activists not to demonize anti-environmentalists, I'd like to think I've been pretty consistent in arguing that the moral high-ground is not always the most productive place to be. (Hypocrite? Not me. Never...)

The fact is that in all aspects of our lives, we'd do well to remember the adage about stones and glass houses. But when it comes to the environment, it is of particular importance—because we all live in the same giant glass house (greenhouse?), we are all armed with a bunch of stones. The fact is that none of us has all the answers to the environmental challenges we face—we are just doing our best to navigate uncharted, dangerous and pretty confusing waters.

So when Richard Branson announces a scheme to give energy ratings to all ships, let's not immediately declare it invalid because he is also promoting space tourism. When Al Gore gets on a plane to go talk about climate change, let's consider that sometimes leverage is more important than footprint. And above all, when we see folks taking steps to make changes—whether in their personal lives, their businesses, or in politics—let's not forget to applaud. Even if we then go on to push for more...

All this is not to say that accusations of hypocrisy do not have their place. Activists must continue to hold the corporate world accountable for the claims they make, and that will sometimes mean calling BS when we see it. Heaven knows TreeHugger has published its fair share of "Greenwash Watch" posts. But let's not be too quick to cast stones. Just as there are very few true eco-villains in this world, green saints are hard to come by too.

More on Morality, Hypocrisy and Going Green
Does Morality Matter in Saving the Planet?
Who Are the Real Eco-Villains?
Anti-environmentalists Don't All Hate the Environment

Tags: Activism | Corporate Responsibility | Greenwashing

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