tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-21429470068075777102016-05-20T15:52:11.090-04:00Passion for the PossibleIdeas for those determined to make the world a better placeTracy Moaverohttp://www.blogger.com/profile/08280055712515863977noreply@blogger.comBlogger1125tag:blogger.com,1999:blog-2142947006807577710.post-33271269547739310132010-03-09T08:14:00.004-05:002010-03-10T00:06:19.542-05:00When Being Green Turns Into Being ObnoxiousOne of GOOD magazine's most discussed blog entries is <a href="http://www.passionforthepossible.org/2009_12_01_archive.html?widgetType=BlogArchive&widgetId=BlogArchive2&action=toggle&dir=open&toggle=MONTHLY-1267419600000&toggleopen=MONTHLY-1259643600000">How to Politely Refuse a Plastic Bag</a>. The light, illustrated piece has practical information, but the comments section hit a nerve for me.<br /><br />Most of the comments were fine, and a few reminded me that twenty years ago plastic was pushed as a better choice than paper. A handful, though, were anecdotes about setting cashiers straight. Apparently, "no, I've been to Africa" is a reasonable reply to "would you like a bag?" A cashier's puzzled look is then an invitation to talk about plastic bags littering the Kenyan landscape. And when buying a backpack, repeatedly answering the bag question with "I'm buying a bag" should not throw a cashier who bags thousands of items a day and is probably on autopilot for rote parts of the job.<br /><br />Before working fulltime in nonprofits, I was a bookseller.* I found that asking "would you like a bag?" got one of three responses: "Yes," or an angry "of course I do!" or an ultra serious "it's bad for the environment, and I don't want to contribute to more non-biodegradable waste in landfills." The third one had many variations, including the unintentionally hilarious "save a tree!"<br /><br />My coworkers and I, despite not liking plastic bags ourselves, found the environmental responses grating. The exception was customers with a sense of humor ("save a plastic tree!"). More frequently, however, responses felt like condescending lectures, where we were being "enlightened" by the smarter, more aware customers. We got to be enlightened repeatedly, throughout each day.<br /><br />A simple "no, thanks" would do just fine. Cashiers, or any other service workers, are tasked with pleasing their customers. What makes one happy ticks off the next one, so it's a balancing act. Businesses also have standard procedures that employees are required to follow, especially at the register. In some stores, bags are required so it's clear that a customer isn't shoplifting.<br /><br />We're all partners in making change, so enough with the self-righteousness. Lectures or admonitions about bags, or water use or public transportation, don't involve listening. They come from a position of "I'm right and you're wrong, and I'm going to tell you why."<br /><br />What to do instead? Be strategic. <br /><ul><li>Actions speak louder than words. Bringing your own bag or simply turning down a plastic one helps shift the demand away from plastic.</li><li>Calling or emailing store management makes more sense than bugging the cashier who has no power to change store procedures. Ask why a business does what you think is unnecessary, since the need may be genuine even if the solution is not ideal. Understanding why things work the way they do makes us better able to suggest workable solutions.</li><li>Help change laws. Here in Washington, DC we have a new $.05 tax on plastic bags used in stores selling food. Not only are reusable bags becoming abundant, but the taxes that are collected go to cleaning up the Anacostia River.</li></ul><br />As another person commented on the Good site: "Maybe not every single cashier gets it, but OH the snobby lectures and eyerolls I have gotten over my many years of working in retail.... and from people I actually agree with, no less."<br /><br />Insulting supporters, let alone would-be supporters, is no way to build a movement for change.<br /><i><br /><br />* I managed independent bookstores, so I must add <i>please support independent stores</i>! Check out <a href="http://www.passionforthepossible.org/2011/02/what-planned-parenthood-means-to-my-92.html?widgetType=BlogArchive&widgetId=BlogArchive2&action=toggle&dir=open&toggle=MONTHLY-1298955600000&toggleopen=MONTHLY-1296536400000">IndieBound</a> and <a href="http://www.passionforthepossible.org/2013_02_01_archive.html?widgetType=BlogArchive&widgetId=BlogArchive2&action=toggle&dir=open&toggle=MONTHLY-1314849600000&toggleopen=MONTHLY-1359694800000">Powell's Books</a> and skip Amazon and the big chains.</i>Tracy Moaverohttp://www.blogger.com/profile/08280055712515863977noreply@blogger.com5