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Environmental Ethics

Volume 17, Issue 1, Spring 1995

L. M. Benton
Pages 3-22
DOI: 10.5840/enviroethics199517133

Selling the Natural or Selling Out?

In the twenty years since the first Earth Day, the environmental movement has become increasingly “commercialized.” In this paper, I examine why many environmental organizations now offer an array of products through catalogs and magazines, or manage stores and outlets. In part one, I explore some of the economic and political influences during the 1970s and 1980s that resulted in increased organizational sophistication and an increased production of environmental products. The part two, I explore the “commercialization” of environmentalism from two angles. First, in terms of a deconstructionist critique of the system of commodities and image, I demonstrate that when environmental organizations partake in this consumer culture, they actually reproduce precisely the values and institutions that they criticize. Second, from a “constructionist” perspective, I argue that environmental products can re-enchant or reconnect people with nature, and thus can help change cultural attitudes about human-nature relationships. I conclude that environmental products are contradictory because environmental merchandise is juxtaposed uneasily between environmental ideological rhetoric and material ambition. Environmental organizations must recognize this ambiguity before they can deal with the problem effectively.

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