The environmental movement has certainly grown from strength to strength since its Swampy-style conservationist roots in the 1950s. Today, green thinking has not only penetrated mainstream global politics but also popular culture, spawning new generations of eco-conscious consumer subgroups in the process. From eco-mums to green fashionistas, I find it interesting and encouraging to see how each group is seeking to integrate green values into their daily lifestyle, especially among the higher-income levels.
A little while ago, there was some buzz on ‘YAWNs', which stands for ‘Young and Wealthy, but Normal', and are epitomized by high flyers like John Robbins and Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang who would prefer to spend their immense wealth on green and social causes rather than for self-gratification. The latest bunch to have been bitten by the green bug, it seems, are the ‘Scuppies', short for ‘Socially-Conscious Young Upwardly-mobile Persons'
Scuppies are basically Yuppies with a conscience. Resembling LOHASians but just a little less spiritual and a little more ambitious, they believe that embracing green living doesn't mean that they have to give up ‘the good life' that they're used to experiencing.
To quote a statement from the Scuppie Manifesto - "Do Scuppies want to save the Earth? Sure, but, they certainly want to enjoy themselves while saving it -- they do not believe in compromise. Eco-friendly does not mean pleasure-barren."
"I still love nice things. I love a nice house, nice things and good food, but I'm trying to get a greener alternative from all those," said Charles Failla, a financial planner who coined the term.
Eager to spread awareness in a humorous yet informative manner, he has created caricatures of some Scuppie characters and is planning to publish "The Scuppie Handbook" soon.
A self-confessed Yuppie-turned-Scuppie, Failla believes that Scuppies' fat pay cheques and voracious demand for eco-friendly products make them an influential demographic segment capable of commanding the attention of businesses, thus driving the growth of a green industry.
The Big Picture
From another perspective, the propagation of green consumerist ethos like Scuppism may not necessarily be considered entirely positive. Attempting to reconcile the perceived evils of conspicuous consumption with the wholesome uprightness of a green worldview is bound to be greeted with indignation, especially from the darker green echelons of environmentalists who fiercely consider capitalist and consumerist behavior as one of the root causes of the environmental destruction we face today.
Certainly, there is a real danger of it going all wrong if, for instance, businesses start to churn out false green products or gobble up ‘green' companies in their eagerness to exploit what is to them, just another money-spinning market segment.
But to be realistic, I think that for the green movement to truly advance from merely reaching the masses to moving the masses, preaching an idealistic form of environmentalism has its limits. Personal observation tells me that pushing people to give up their desire to drive cool cars, wear branded apparel, eat tasty non-vegetarian food and own nice things, more often than not frustrates or intimidates them into giving up on even trying at all.
Looking at the issue in a more optimistic manner, I would argue that green consumerist paradigms may be crucial in the interest of harm reduction, especially in emerging economies like China where materialistic values are culturally entrenched and there is a significant burgeoning class of nouveaux riche who have suffered a lifetime of hardship and poverty in order to achieve their wealth. They are dead intent, I assure you, on using that wealth to reward themselves and their families through conspicuous consumption, no matter how hard you appeal to their moral sensibilities.
In the wide spectrum of greenism, Scuppies probably border on the shades of the lightest green and brown. But in the long-run, who is to say that these consumers will not evolve and mature into full-fledged greenies? Since everyone has to start somewhere, green consumerism may in fact be a very practical starting point towards achieving a sustainable market economy.