Green! Green! everywhere but no smaller footprint in sight?

Going “green” has become as nebulous an idea as “happiness”. 

Twenty first century living has made it fashionable to be “green”, but what does is it really mean?

Does driving a Prius or switching to energy efficient light bulbs make you an environmentalist? Or do you have to be a granola-eating-vegan protesting at an international climate change conference to be one? With so much information and mis-information out there, has all this “green” activity really made a difference to the environment?

As it turns out, not all green is created equal.

Pioneering environmental journalist and founder of, Alex Steffen  coined the term “bright green” and what follows is a summary of his brilliant explanation around the evolution of the environmental spectrum. (Some of his choice quotes are included.)


“For the future to be green, it must also be bright”.

Think change at a “systems” level: transforming our urban landscape, and using emerging technologies, innovation, design and entrepreneurism to create infrastructure that brings prosperity & wellbeing while being in sync with nature. The focus is on “tools, models and ideas” that will dramatically transform existing material design templates from the industrial era into closed loop manufacturing.

Some examples of bright green thinking include:

  • Leapfrogging - developing nations skipping old & expensive first world infrastructures in favor of new sustainable technologies e.g., cell phones rather than land lines, solar panels rather than power poles
  • Urban density that allows for sustainable redesign of cities while preserving healthy natural habitats
  • Open-source models of design, copyright and licensing that nurture collaboration worldwide
  • Closed-loop manufacturing exemplified by Cradle to Cradle design


“You can’t shop your way to a bright green future”.

Change at an individual/lifestyle/consumer level.

Think energy efficient bulbs & cars, solar panels for your house, buying organic foods, recycling.

Though taking responsibility for individual consumption is important, light green environmentalism can only go so far. It has been successful in making “green” hip; however, it has also resulted in “green fatigue” with big business jumping on the environmental bandwagon. 

Even millions of eco-consumers do not have the ability to retard the depletion of the earth’s natural resources within the current production paradigm.

Instead, the discussion needs to shift towards an in-depth public debate, political change and realigning of our value system that is resonant with a big picture view of where we stand ecologically, including investment in big ticket innovation & sustainability.


“Can tend to be doomers, warning of impending collapse”.

Change at the community level.

Descendents of the early environmentalists, dark green proponents nurture their connection with the land, reject consumerism and support all things local. Extremist tendencies in this group are represented by angry activism, doomsday scenarios and turning a blind eye to what new technologies and innovation have to offer.


“The epicenter of gray thinking is the nest of lobbyists and industry-funded think tanks on K Street in Washington D.C.”.

These are of course, the folks in denial – either voluntarily or out of ignorance. In their view, there is no cause for concern for the planet or our civilization.

What shade of green are you?

If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably a blend of greens. As Steffen points out, the goal of creating this environmental spectrum is not to segment society, but rather to foster a better understanding of our ecological intentions and actions.

Reflect on the ways you can incorporate Bright Green into your life.

To get started, check out Alex Steffen speaking at the 2006 PopTech! Conference: