The Rise of the Eco-Douchebag

Douchebag: a man who dresses and uses products in a way characterized by conspicuous consumption, a man who tries so hard to look stylish that he becomes tacky. Eco-douchebag: a man who dresses and uses products in a way characterized by conspicuous smugness, a man who tries so hard to look eco-friendly that he becomes wasteful.

The cornerstone of eco-douchebaggery is the unexamined belief that environmental problems can be solved by consuming different and slightly more expensive products rather than simply consuming less.  The eco-douchebag typically has enough money to pay for slightly more expensive, “environmentally friendly” products and therefore the switch isn’t really much of a sacrifice, and it has the added benefit of allowing the eco-douche to show off his superiority using products, the only way a douche knows how.  What would be a sacrifice for a douche of any kind, is consuming less.   Just as the traditional douche often thinks he’s being original and edgy with his fashion choices while he’s really just wearing a uniform decided for him by corporations, the eco-douche is also unwittingly supporting someone else’s agenda.

I live in Hong Kong, and for years now I’ve been trying to figure out why Hong Kong generates more solid waste per person than anywhere on earth, nearly twice that of Japan and Korea.  My first instinct in answering a question like this is “who benefits?” and one doesn’t have to look too far (north) to find some beneficiaries of HK’s wasteful culture.  Most of these plastic bags, plastic forks, wooden throwaway chopsticks, styrofoam etc. is produced in China.  If HK became less wasteful, it would be bad for China’s spectacular economic growth.  And therefore bad for the Chinese politicians who depend on economic growth to justify their “mandate of heaven,” and therefore their legitimacy.  In China, as elsewhere, waste is good for economic growth.  When the status quo is wasteful, and waste benefits those in power, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that wastefulness persists.

I’ve been eating at this trendy vegetarian restaurant in Central, a restaurant that advertises it’s ecological ethics as part of its branding strategy.  It is also by far the most wasteful restaurant in the area.  Pretty much every restaurant around, except this one, uses reusable metal cutlery, and reusable plates and bowls for all dine-in orders.  They do this not because of environmentalism, but because it’s cheaper than using throwaway packaging, which they do use for takeaway orders.  My trendy vegetarian spot very smartly blends a hippie and yuppie aesthetic and uses 100% biodegradable (a.k.a. made from paper or corn) packaging, even for it’s water cups (which nobody ever takes out of the restaurant; they just get used once and composted).  When I asked the owner, a proud vegan sporting a leather man-purse, about this, he basically responded with “wer’re getting there, but it’s hard,” not being extra wasteful that is.  I think this guy totally made the right business decision.  Faced with prioritizing the appearance of environmentalism vs. actual environmentalism, he chose the former.

The reason this was such a wise decision is that eco-douches vastly outnumber people who actually consider through the environmental impact of their decisions in a thoughtful, honest way.  This is because people like to feel good about themselves, particularly guilt-ridden, privileged people, and thinking about the real consequences of our actions makes feeling good about ourselves hard. So rather than question an ecologically disastrous economic paradigm, the eco-douchebag merely switches products, and looks cool doing it.