Going Green in the God Business

Here’s an unexpected story of a business sector finding environmental salvation: many Christian churches are apparently “going green” this Palm Sunday (which I’m told is coming up soon). In particular, they’re using palm fronds that have been harvested in more environmentally responsible ways during their celebrations of the story of the rebirth of Jesus:

Churches go ‘green’ for Palm Sunday

This year, more than 2,130 congregations across the USA, including Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, will use “eco-palms” that are harvested in a more environmentally friendly way….

One wonders whether this environmentally conscious move will one day be carried to its logical conclusion, namely the elimination of the use of palm fronds altogether. Surely their symbolic role could be carried out by some means other than having every member of a church’s congregation carry one? Why not an e-palm… a picture of a palm frond on my PDA or iPod? I mean, if you really want to minimize environmental impact, reducing ain’t as good as eliminating.

It’s also interesting to note what a huge premium churches are paying for eco-palms:

A typical order of 200 eco-palms costs $47.50…compared with $21 to $23 for traditional palms….

That’s a helluva premium to be paying… apparently part of that is accounted for by the slower, more careful (and hence more ecologically friendly) harvesting methods. But some of it goes to ensuring fair wages for workers, and apparently 25% goes back into the harvesting communities in the form of scholarships, etc. Seems to me that marketing eco-palm fronds to these churches is roughly like marketing fair-trade coffee to yuppies. Once they’ve signaled that they’re willing to pay more, why not double the price? But if I were the one doing the buying on behalf of one of these churches, I’d want to ask some tough questions about just where that huge markup is really going, and whether that’s the best way to spend that money.

(Note: for some neat background and argumentation about marketing fair trade coffee to yuppies, etc., see John Kay’s The Truth About Markets)

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