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November 14, 2000

Bringing Environmentalism to the Personal Level

Team Offers Workshop on Being A Green Consumer

by Edmund Tsang

From her vintage point of having served as a county commissioner, Wendy Allen sees Baldwin County as "a perfect example of suburban sprawl" where farmlands are replaced by buildings and people are commuting longer to and from work. Coupled with the lack of planning and a "short-term, fix-it" mentality at the county government level, Allen says one result is that municipal governments are finding the cost of delivering services to outlying areas escalating, and the quality of life for the populace is being slowly degraded by the sprawl.

"When I was on the county commission, I saw the loss of a lot of habitats and wetlands," Allen told The Harbinger in a telephone interview last week. "I also saw a lot of people getting sick with asthma and cancer." Allen said her concern about the "sustainability" of Baldwin County's development is coupled with her concern about the way "the consumer culture" is driving the economy and dominating people's lives. "To what extent do we want our economy to define who we are?" Allen asked. "I think many people are beginning to feel the American Dream is not working for them. They are working longer hours to sustain a consumer culture and are commuting farther and longer to work. Some people experience road rage as a result. We didn't have that in the past."

Citing statistics about how much Americans consume and waste as compared to the rest of the world, Allen said, "If we want the rest of the world to live like us," with advertising piquing an unlimited appetite and a throw-away culture, "it will take six Earths to provide the resources and to accept the wastes. It used to be that man was at the mercy of nature; today nature is at the mercy of man."

Her research on sustainable development led her to the realization that in a democracy, solutions to these issues require the participation of everyone, at the local-government level and at the personal level, to be conscious of daily habits and how they impact the surrounding ecology, and to become wise and green consumers. So Allen teams up with Charlene Lee, who has an interest and professional experience in experiential behavior modification, to develop a workshop to bring awareness of the connection between the actions of local government and people on a daily basis, and the overall health of the supporting ecosystem to county officials and the general public.

So far, the team has conducted a one-day workshop for county officials at the County Commission College. "There was not a high level of awareness," says Lee. She said the goal of the workshop is to get county officials interested in developing an integrated approach and taking a long view of how the county plans and delivers services, such as giving incentives to companies that use recycle materials in their production, and adopt an accounting system that incorporates the full cost of doing business. "At present, there seems to be disincentives and the products made with recycled materials are more expensive to purchase," Allen said. "Also currently, cost-benefit analysis carried out by government and business usually neglects human and environmental cost, even though these are indicators for sustainability."

The team has also developed a non-credit course in conjunction with the University of South Alabama-Baldwin Campus for the individual consumer that they had twice offered, without success, to teach awareness and the "how-to steps" of being a wise, green consumer. "I don't think green consumers and sustainability are driving issues in people's lives," Lee explained.

"The first time we offered the non-credit course we named it 'Earth Odyssey 2001,'" Allen said. "I think people just don't know what to expect from that title." Allen said. The course was offered again under the title "How to Make Money and Save the Earth" but again without success in attracting any subscribers. Allen recognizes the challenge in bringing about an awareness of the impacts of a consumer culture against the power of advertising. "Many times when things get too close to home, the lack of personal commitment and political will can get in the way," Allen added.

Ms. Allen is also bringing the message of green consumerism to her work as a realtor. "I am trying to create a niche for people who want other options such as a Green Home where the home owner would save money and save the earth," Allen said. When asked how her fellow realtors feel about her message of environmentalism, Allen said "they are not sure if they could make a profit on the idea of green homes."

Allen said she has also talked to several builders and developers in Fairhope about the benefits of "green development," bringing to their awareness examples of green homes and green buildings in other cities. "I recognize it's a long process," Allen said.


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