The geography of green consumerism
Buying green is all the rage: barely a day passes without the rollout
of a new "environmentally responsible" product. This week it's the
waterless car-wash, an energy saving computer monitor and a
biodegradable dish-rack. Ignore, for a moment, whether green
consumerism is a contradiction in terms. Pass over the question of
whether these products actually deliver the benefits they promise. Who
buys them--the rich, the idealistic, the penny pinching or the guilty?
Perhaps energy saving cars, light-bulbs, computer monitors and building
materials appeal to those who value their future environmental
benefits. But evidence suggests that, despite tangible financial
rewards, most people do not make even small environmentally sound
changes at home, such as installing energy-efficient light bulbs or not
leaving the television on standby.
Messrs Kahn and Vaughn built a database of every certified green
building, sorted by zip codes. They looked at where hybrid vehicles
were registered, and constructed a measure of each zip code's politics
based on analysis of party registration and voting records on two
binding statewide environmental initiatives.
Of 349 places in California, the ten greenest are Albany,
Berkeley, Fairfax, Belvedere, Piedmont, Mill Valley, Larkspur, Portola
Valley, Sausalito and Palo Alto. Folsom and Bakersfield rank near the
bottom. And mapping their index by zip code across the entire state
gives a graphic representation of where California's greenies live.
All of this raises the question of why the politically green huddle
together in the same sorts of locations. Dr Kahn speculates that small
initial differences in spatial attributes, such as being close to a
beach or public transport, may create the initial seeds of green
communities. "This in turn attracts 'green businesses'," he explains,
"such as tofu restaurants and bike shops, and this in turn attracts
more greens." The process culminates when greens have enough political
clout to elect politicians and enact green regulation that further
enhances their community's attractiveness to environmentalists.