Conspicuous Conservationism


Welcome to the Earth Day Blog Carnival
This post is part of the 2012 Earth Day Blog Carnival hosted by Child of the Nature Isle and Monkey Butt Junction. Each participant has shared their practices and insights of earth friendly, environmentally conscious, eco-living. This carnival is our way to share positive information and inspiration that can create healing for our planet. Please read to the end of this post to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. Happy Earth Day!


For the 2011 Earth Day Blog Carnival I wrote about the “green sheen” – corporations adopting green language not out of a love of the environment or a respect for our resources but rather as a marketing angle by using meaningless labels to make their products or services appear to be eco-conscious.

It looks like corporations aren’t alone – some studies have shown that individuals also engage in a little eco-dishonesty: people tend to make more eco-friendly decisions when they believe that they can be seen making eco-friendly decisions.

Researchers Steven Sexton and Alison Sexton have written about what they have termed “conspicuous conservationism:”  the act of engaging in ecologically conscious behavior to gain esteem or social status.   One particularly illustrative example of conspicuous conservationism is installing solar panels on the street-facing side of one’s house, even if that side is more shaded. Obviously the solar panels will better serve the home on the sunnier side of the street, but then who would know about them?

The Sextons’ study also accounts for the popularity of the Prius hybrid car.  Honda, Nissan and Ford all sell hybrids, but none of theirs reach the popularity of the Prius even though they offer comparable benefits in terms of gas mileage and carbon footprint.  So why is the Prius the big winner?  The Sextons theorize that the Prius’ distinctive design is to blame:  visually, the hybrid Civic, for example, looks like a regular Civic.  The casual onlooker probably won’t notice that the driver is driving a hybrid unless he looks very closely.  The Prius is far more obvious – the driver is making a statement by his vehicle choice. People want others to notice their eco-conscious choices.

I know I’m guilty of conspicuous conservationism myself.  Here’s my own crunchy confession:  when I forget my reusable grocery bags at Trader Joe’s, I’ll buy a new one.  It isn’t that I need yet another reusable bag.  I just feel better walking out of Trader Joe’s with a reusable bag, particularly if there are other people in line with reusable bags.  Vain?  Maybe a little. But is it such a bad thing?

I would say no:  regardless of people’s motives, conservation is conservation.  Every eco-friendly decision is a step in the right direction.  While the term “peer pressure” typically has negative connotations, positive peer pressure can go a long way towards pushing people towards good decisions.  So if part of your reason for buying local is so that you can sport that cute organic cotton T-shirt that says “I Buy Local,” go for it.  Conspicuous conservationism is an interesting concept, and one that I’m noticing more and more in my own actions.

Further reading:

Freakonomics - Conspicuous Conservation and the Prius Effect

Steven and Amanda Sexton’s Paper


    Thank you for stopping by the 2012 Earth Day Blog Carnival! Please relax and take time to read these other great eco-living posts:
    Earth Day Blog Carnival - Child of the Nature Isle and Monkey Butt Junction

    • You are a Child of the Earth – Using the Earth as their classroom, Patti from Canadian Unschool teaches her 4 children their spiritual connection to the Earth and she accepts that loving the Earth can get really, really messy.
    • Cutting Out Paper – Jorje of Momma Jorje shares how she went from curiosity and concern to actually cutting out the use of paper towels in her household. She is proud to be “greener” as each Earth Day passes.
    • The World is Brown – Debra Ann Elliot of Words are Timeless believes in keeping the Earth green, but because so many people inhabit the Earth it is turning brown because people aren’t doing their part by reducing, reusing, and recycling.
    • 7 Child And Eco Friendly Activities To Honor The Earth (Plus Some Environmental Books For Kids) – Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama shares her favorite books that help children become more aware of the importance of respecting and caring for Mother Earth. In addition, she hosts a guest post outlining seven child and eco friendly activities to honor the earth.
    • 5 Ways We Teach Our Children To Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle – Valarie at Momma In Progress shares a few tips for encouraging young children to care for the earth.
    • Little Changes – Big Results – Meegs at A New Day talks about how sometimes it’s the little decisions and changes that can lead us to find big results, and how she’s baby-stepping her way to a more environmentally conscious lifestyle.
    • Inspiring the Next Generation – aNonyMous at at Radical Ramblings hopes to inspire her daughter to live a green and sustainable lifestyle, in the same way she was inspired by her high-school science teacher, and talks about the changes her family are making towards this vision.
    • Eco-Friendly Cleansers: Safe For the Environment, Healthy For Every Body – Rebekah at Liberated Family writes about safe and natural alternatives to toxic, household cleaning products..
    • Lightening My Footprint with Cloth Nappies (Diapers) – Christine at African Babies Don’t Cry shares the biggest eco-choice she has made so far, and why she is so passionate about it.
    • Clutter Free for a Cause – At Living Peacefully with Children Mandy’s penchant for decluttering and simple living cuts down on consumerism, taking less of a tole on the Earth.
    • Eco-Parenting: Homemade Bug Spray – Kerry at City Kids Homeschooling shares a homemade bug spray recipe that helps her family to enjoy the natural world while taking precautions against bug bites.
    • Let the Scales Fall From My Eyes…Just Not Too Quickly – Kelly at Becoming Crunchy talks about the discomfort of no longer being able to live in denial over how her choices affect the world around her.
    • Fostering Love of Earth – Justine at The Lone Home Ranger instills a love of nature in her daughters by embarking on their first backyard vegetable garden together.
    • Being in Nature – Carrie at Love Notes Mama knows that just being in nature is more than enough.
    • 5 Ways to Pass Down Environmental Values to Your Children – Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama shares how easy it can be to instill environmental values in your children.
    • Viva Portlandia – Amy at Anktangle writes about the place she lives and loves in: Portland. She describes the ways this green city makes it easy for her family to take care of our earth, and also the steps she’s taking to further lessen her family’s environmental impact.
    • Conspicuous Conservationism – Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction examines the phenomenon of eco-conscious behavior as a status symbol.
    • Time for Radical Sustainability – Terri at Child of the Nature Isle ponders how she can model a truly sustainable lifestyle for her children and raise them in a way their environmental consciousness is as natural as breathing!

    A big thank you to all of the 2012 Earth Day Blog Carnival participants!

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12 Responses to Conspicuous Conservationism

  1. Carrie @ LoveNotesMama

    Very interesting! It’s almost a form of peer pressure! Or, perceived peer pressure. I wish I had enough money to install solar panels just to impress people hahaa. (Although, from what I hear, people think they are unsightly so I’m not sure they are seen as a social status everywhere just yet.)
    Carrie @ LoveNotesMama recently posted..Being in Nature

  2. Kelly

    Jenn this post is hilarious! I always like to laugh at myself a bit in my green-isms and can definitely see truth here (I’m sure I do many things because I know I can blog about them and get that little pat on the back!). The Prius and solar panels thing – it’s so funny!

    And yet as you say – who cares about the motivation if it’s happening? And hopefully those more ‘shallow’ starts will lead to a deeper interest for many – I do think they have in my case.

    Thanks for the great carnival!
    Kelly recently posted..Let the Scales Fall From My Eyes…Just Not Too Quickly

  3. Pingback: Eco-Friendly Cleansers: Safe For the Environment, Healthy For Every Body « Liberated Family

  4. Patti @ Canadian Unschooler

    I once wrote a post called “Green is the New Black” that also speaks to this issue. I was confounded by the moms at playgroup who said they didn’t allow plastic toys in their homes and who brought hemp-guava-current granola bars for snack time, but they drove their ONE child to the community centre in their gigantic SUV when they lived only a few blocks away. Just sayin’!

    I agree that being ‘green’ is often a status symbol and that sometimes mommies try to compete to see who can be greener. I am guilty of it myself and I am trying to be conscientious about doing things that support my life in a positive way and not as a way to impress others.

    A great post!
    Patti @ Canadian Unschooler recently posted..You Are a Child of the Earth

  5. Terri

    Love it! I have an organic hemp shirt and I’m so happy that it has a label on the outside of the shirt also to tell the world (or anyone coming close enough) what it is made of!! So yes in this and many other ways, I like to flaunt my ecological credentials where I can. However a lot of the time, as well as it making me look like an Eco-Queen, it’s because I know it can spark conversation and maybe initiate a different way of thinking. At this stage I think it’s great if all things eco could be a status symbol – we have to change the planet drastically and so I’ll accept that some people will be at the deep end while others wade about in the shallow part of the ‘green pool’! Ultimately eco-consumerism is still part of the problem – when we can buy an organic-hemp-superfood bar with a fresh smoothie at Wholefoods but have no idea about the changing seasons and what foods are locally available in our region or how to grow them BUT if consumers can help small sustainable companies flourish and show big business how to operate in a way that heals the Earth then go ahead and buy that super cute T-shirt, Prius and a windmill!
    Terri recently posted..Earth Day 2012 – Time for Radical Sustainability

  6. aNonyMous

    Great point! I’ve noticed this too, and have been a little guilty of it myself sometimes. I’m not exactly quiet about my eco-choices. ;)

  7. I Thought I Knew Mama

    Thank you for hosting and for this really interesting post! To look at the bright side, I’m glad being green is considered cool enough now that people actually make an effort to appear green. Even if it’s not fully representative of their lifestyle, a little green goes a long way when a lot of people are doing it. :-)
    I Thought I Knew Mama recently posted..5 Ways to Pass Down Environmental Values to Your Children

  8. Meegs

    Yeah, I definitely do this too… but I figure, if its reminding me of doing what I want to do anyway, well good! :-)
    Meegs recently in progress {Happy Earth Day!}

  9. Amy

    I totally agree with you! I’ve heard the same argument about doing things with blogging about them in mind: if blogging motivates you to do something fun with your kid, or good for your body (or whatever) then what’s the harm in that? =)
    Amy recently posted..Sunday Surf: Home Ownership & Earth Day

  10. Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling

    Jenn, thanks for co-hosting this fabulous blog carnival! I, too, buy another reusable bag at Whole Foods if I forget to bring one!
    Kerry @ City Kids Homeschooling recently posted..Connecting with Food and Farm

  11. Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama

    LOVE THIS: Here’s my own crunchy confession: when I forget my reusable grocery bags at Trader Joe’s, I’ll buy a new one. It isn’t that I need yet another reusable bag. I just feel better walking out of Trader Joe’s with a reusable bag, particularly if there are other people in line with reusable bags.

    Yeah – I do the same thing. But that is the extent of my conspicuous conservationism. My former boss was a prime example of someone who had to show the world that he was the uber green/earth loving citizen but in reality he could care less. It was all about appearances. Sickening really.

    Great post and great Carnival. Thank you for all the hard work!

  12. Christine @ African Babies Don't Cry

    This is amazing, and I suppose so true. I was just thinking of this, this morning. If it wasn’t for the trendy people that promote green actions, not many people would choose them. But, I agree, who cares why people are slowly choosing greener actions and choices, the point is that they are.

    Thanks for hosting :)
    Christine @ African Babies Don’t Cry recently posted..Review & GIVEAWAY : Coconut Oil For Your Skin, Nourishing Your Body From The Outside In {6/5 ; WORLDWIDE}

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