This is my most recent piece for the Center for a New Community. It will be published online next week:
The “green” movement has been co-opted by hundreds of groups, organization, and even corporations. Walmart , George W. Bush , and even the United States military have taken the word “green” and used it to their (fiscal) advantage. Green has come to mean anything that is sustainable or “earth-friendly.” It has also become a verb: a businesses can “green” themselves by limiting their energy footprint. When any entity uses the word to increase its’ financial profit, or for other such selfish purposes, I refer such use as “green-washing.” One of the more recent, and more creative co-opters of this term is The Greenery, a successful landscaping business in South Carolina. In a blog post on March 15, 2011, Dominique Peridans, a Roman Catholic priest and anti-immigration activist says that The Greenery is truly green: “If "green" means ‘environmentally sound,’ and legal hiring creates a more respectful, more harmonious work (and civic) environment, then perhaps it has gone really green. Those supportive of such business practices cannot but wish such companies continued growth. Go green!”
I wanted to look into Father Peridans’ speculation. Maybe he was right. Maybe hiring legal workers was the best way to make your company green. To conduct my research, I put myself into the role of a small business owner, looking to make my business more sustainable. I sat down and googled “greening your business.” The first link that pops up is from the NRDC . The website provides a guide to making your business have a lighter impact on the earth. Oddly enough, the suggestions refer to consumption practices: e.g. paper-use, energy use, water waste, and using non-toxic products. Nowhere, on any of the websites that came up upon googling, was there discussion of hiring only legal workers as a solution to business-greening.
According to the World Bank, 53% of Mexico’s population lives on less than $2 per day, and 24% lives on $1 per day, with an unemployment rate of 40% . Illegal immigrants have lower per capita and per household, incomes than all other households in the United States . Illegal immigrants often reside in substandard living conditions that are crowded . Generally, illegal immigrants don’t have many poseccions, and cannot drive/ do not own a car. So, what makes these employees so unsustainable? At carbonfootprint.com, I attempted calculating the carbon footprint of an illegal immigrant, finding that it was about 0.02 tons of carbon/ year, versus the average American’s 20.4 tons of carbon/ year . So, if your employee has a low carbon footprint, I suppose that would help green your business (since no one would be driving a Hummer to work at least.) Father Peridan appears to be reaching with his suggestion for the ultimate “greening” of your company. The motivation behind the co-option of “green” is clear: appeal to a wider (more liberal?) audience, and convince more folks to take an anti-immigration stance.
Knowing the insurmountable poverty and harsh living conditions that illegal immigrants face, I cannot blame any of our environmental plights upon them. In fact, if we were looking for ways to become more green, we could take a few pointers from the impoverished people of the world, who do so very little to contribute to our global ecological crisis.
Catherine Craig is a Hampshire College student and a legislative intern working in Vermont for a farmer advocy group. She was raised Catholic and is ashamed of how Father Peridans’ blog piece represents Catholicism. Father Peridan seems to have forgotten that Christ was an activist for the poor not for the businessman.