Being environmentally friendly might have an image problem.
As I packed canvas shopping bags into my car for a grocery run, I asked one of my roommates if he had ever considered using them. He responded that he would, but it just seemed too "smug" to do so. By using the green bags, he said he would feel as though he was just doing it to feel self-righteous compared to other shoppers. That is, he didn't want to flaunt his greenness.
I didn't exactly agree with this analysis, but I could see his point. In Madison, we've encountered plenty of holier-than-thou types when it comes to the environment. Maybe their hearts are in the right place, but the tone of the message is a bit harsh. Unfortunately, this can turn people away from being labeled an "environmentalist" because of the negative connotation this might carry.
Luckily, there's a slew of other "excuses" for going green. My canvas grocery bags, as I pointed out to my roommate, are just more convenient, and they're much less likely to rip and spill my groceries all over the stairs than a paper bag. So if ever accused of doing something environmentally friendly just for the smug factor (jumping on the "green bandwagon," perhaps), here are some non-green excuses for helping the Earth:
-- money is a strong argument for any cause, and many green activities are easy on the wallet as well as the environment. Just one example is switching to a more fuel-efficient vehicle. For example, using the government rebate program for cars with poor fuel economy, my family's switch from a 1999 Plymouth Voyager to a 2010 Ford Fusion could save about $500 annually in fuel costs (Source: www.fueleconomy.gov
"It's healthy" -- from eating fresh, local produce to biking instead of driving, many activities can improve both human and environmental health. Madison is blessed with several bike trails, and commuting on two wheels is not only cheaper, but is definitely better exercise than sitting in a car.
-- helping the environment can be a great way to meet people. Some green activities are just more personal, like buying food from a CSA farm or vendor at a farmers market instead of a chain grocery store. For example, according to an article
in Mother Jones
by Michael Pollan, Virginia farmer Joel Salatin has about 1,000 regular customers at his organic farm. One customer told Pollan, "I trust the Salatins more than I trust Wal-Mart. And I like the idea of keeping my money right here in town." Buying local, in addition to reducing carbon emissions from long-distance transport, also helps build a sense of community.
These "excuses" are just a start. You could also argue that going green is patriotic (by reducing fuel usage, you're also reducing dependence on foreign oil), it's aesthetic (who likes to look at smog?), or it's even spiritual (as in preserving wilderness for its "sublime" appeal).
But then again, maybe excuses aren't necessary. Why should it matter why you're going green, as long as you sincerely want to help the environment? It's really a personal choice, and others' judgment shouldn't matter in why (or why not) you decide to help the Earth.
For the record, my roommate ended up buying green bags. But he certainly didn't do it to look cool.