Green Caution: Conflating the Micro into the Macro

Green initiatives can, with the best intentions, conflate legitimate reports of progress at the micro level into unsubstantiated assertions of progress at the macro level. This happens in both organizational and community initiatives and can undermine true progress at the higher levels.

We cannot, for example, add up absolute carbon reductions from some households and small businesses in a community, or from some departments in a business or government entity, and assert that they represent absolute reductions for the whole. Negative behaviors by other micro units might (and often do)decrease overall performance at the macro level. Macro-level initiatives that roll-up only positive micro behaviors while ignoring negative ones deliberately distort the big picture.

Each level needs to adopt its own program of evidence-based greening, including the establishment of baselines and goals and the measurement of performance against them. Leaders of micro-impact initiatives have an ethical obligation to make it clear that their progress is not evidence of progress at the macro level and to actively resist attempts to do otherwise.

It is human nature to want to believe that our behavior is part of something bigger. This can be a positive force when it motivates us to take an objective look at the bigger picture and our impact on it. Absent that approach, our position is no more than an unsubstantiated belief and can become a form of greenwash that impedes meaningful progress at the macro-level.