Another question about sustainability may be, what about when it merely appears to be sustainable? Terms like ‘green washing’ are well known by many, and when one thinks of Auroville, it may seem to be a less likely place to find green washing. I’d say that the quality of being ‘less likely’ is true. Yet of course, just as all other places, Auroville is a place with people, minds, intentions, all of the possibilities that can arise from such a combination, and some say, green washing as well. Within Auroville, one can observe some inspiring approaches to the production of goods, shelter, resource consumption, business and lifestyle. While so many of the NGO’s and projects in Auroville exemplify among the most noteworthy approaches to these concerns, many conversations with a variety of individuals during my last month have offered some contrasting thoughts as well.
An older man, Tamil Nadu native and Aurovillian, expressed to me that he felt strong concerns about what he called green washing among some projects in Auroville working with local and indigenous communities and producing products to be sold to the national and international market. To summarize his thoughts; there were projects, led usually by European Aurovillians with decision-making power, that demonstrated particularly pleasant relationships with the locals they employed while there were visitors present to learn about the given project. And that such pleasant relationships might be less impressive if observed while there were no visitors present. In addition, this man expressed that the products themselves claimed so loudly to be made by local and or indigenous communities or groups of women that were being empowered and benefiting significantly from the training and selling of products when in reality, there was visible disparity regarding how much the project leader received and how much the local people received; ultimately using the story, value and international attraction towards indigenous, local or women-based projects to sell a product attached to an idea that was deceiving. In effect, green washing. And even worse, capitalizing on the story of the lived experiences and situations on others in order to sell a product.
This man, over time, had observed the contexts that he spoke about with me. With or without the story of this man, the same issues are easily observable on an international scale as well. Organic coffees, all kinds of foods, apparel and products claim to be fair trade, ethical and standing in solidarity with those communities growing the coffee, sewing the clothes or making the products. In reality of course, the consumer knows either consciously or somewhere in their peripheral awareness, that they don’t know the actual history or social-political context from which a given product comes from. Product designers, advertisers and marketing experts would have no power without the willingness of the consumer to trust what the label says, to believe the story being told.
If we consider not the possibility but rather the plausibility of sustainability in practice, it becomes clear that no theory offers success. Instead, only people and their individual desire, will, solidarity and action can lead to success, sustainably. What does ‘success’ mean in this context? The intentional practice of sustainability, regardless of how imperfect the way there may be. And what could such a large term like ‘sustainability’ refer to? Perhaps, an approach and practice that assures all involved are cared for with equality and able to care, speak and provide for themselves as well.
Thinking twice, especially when offered stories pleasant to our ears and minds, may encourage ourselves and others to see the difference between what seems to be and what might be. And most importantly, that we, even the most determined to bring change to the world, are equally susceptible to the very qualities and decisions we profess to change in the world, one day.
The one who stayed in India – AUP