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Who Says Grand Rapids is America’s Greenest City?

October 14, 2008

Yesterday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front-page story about Grand Rapids being named “America’s Greenest City.” The designation came from the national business magazine FastCompany. According to the Press story, Grand Rapids received this designation for having “more green buildings per capita than any other US city.” However, the article states that area business leaders and educators think that being green is not enough, “we need sustainability.”
According to those who are sourced in the story, sustainability is what is good for business, society, and the environment–what some refer to as the Triple Bottom Line. In fact, the only sources cited in the story is a representative from Cascade Engineering, the Aquinas College Sustainable Business Program, the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, and The Right Place Program, a local organization that helps businesses locate to West Michigan.
Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell is also cited in the story saying, “If we want to be a sustainable community, a place where people live well, where business thrives and where natural assets are protected, then we simply must begin to think differently and let our thinking drive our acting.” Despite all this rhetoric, the only example of sustainability in West Michigan cited in the article is Cascade Engineering.
The article highlights one of Cascade Engineering’s products called the EcoCart, a recycle bin that has a radio-chip and bar code on it which “allows recyclers to track the cart and even how much a household recycles.” Even with this several paragraph description of the EcoCart, the Press article never substantiates how this product promotes sustainability. In fact, the Press reporter does not even ask what is different about this blue recycle bin and the ones the City offers residents for free. the Press writer also doesn’t bother to ask about the other products that Cascade Engineering makes–like automotive parts–and how the manufacturing of those products practices sustainability.
This Press article, like much of the recent local reporting on “going green,” continues to present the business perspective of sustainability with no critical assessment nor independent voices that are challenging what some call “Green Capitalism.” Green Capitalism is capitalism that attempts to promote itself as environmentally friendly. However, one fundamental component of Green Capitalism is that it is all always about expansion, making more products and using more of the world’s resources.
FastCompany, the magazine that gave Grand Rapids “America’s Greenest City” designation, is simply a pro-market, profits friendly publication that fits into this new group of Green Capitalists. Even with only a brief look at their website, one can see that they are primarily about to promotion of business, not sustainability. Moreover, as long as the Grand Rapids Press continues to report on the Green Capitalist movement without a critical perspective, we can expect to see more businesses promote themselves as “green” without truly being sustainable.

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