But Is It Trash?

Evaluating art in the age of conspicuous consumption

We are on the brink of ecological catastrophe, yet rates of conspicuous consumption are unprecedented, in part because we remain wedded to an economic system that depends on consumerism. Out of this contradiction, a new market has arisen: the sustainability market. Eco-­driving, travel mugs, organic food and textiles, and the locavore movement, to name a few trends, are there to make our habits both ethical and fun. And there’s upcycling, which sounds great and gives us moral credit, just like riding a bicycle (except for the aluminum extraction required). The combined effect is the commodification of morality — washed with a green veneer.

Greenwashing helps to mask an emerging placebo discourse around sustainability and waste. As much as there might be all sorts of good reasons to use a travel mug instead of a disposable cup, we’re still purchasing our beverages “to go” and supporting companies...