There is a danger that those who do the right thing in the supermarket will alleviate their concerns and even believe that their actions are all that is required to protect the environment. The need to change attitudes towards consumption, values and institutional structures will be ignored: 'consumers, finally satisfied that they can 'do something', may seek no further than their shopping trolleys to help the planet'. Furthermore, green consumerism is often presented as an alternative to government regulation.
A manufacturer of hamburger packaging called Ozone Packaging took out newspaper advertisements to advertise “The Hamburger That Saved The World. You don’t have to change the way you live to do the right thing by the environment. Keep on eating hamburgers. But make sure they come in Ozone take-away packaging.”
The effectiveness of green consumerism depends on large numbers of people acting responsibly. Sandy Irvine from the English Greens argued that 'we need social institutions that act as the custodian of the collective conscience, and must not just put our eggs in the basket of individual self-transformation'. Irvine claimed that green consumerism perpetuates the logic of consumerism that 'human fulfilment is still defined largely in terms of the purchase of commodities'.
Patricia Hynes, a US academic, argued that green consumerism reduces people to consumers. Their power to influence society is reduced to their purchasing power, and the value of goods is reduced to people's willingness to buy them. Those who have more disposable income will have greater purchasing power, and therefore their consumer demands will count the most.
Wendy Fatin, as the minister assisting the Australian Prime Minister on the status of women, argued that green consumerism is an effective way of putting the burden of responsibility onto women, who do most of the nation's household shopping, rather than obliging companies to produce environmentally benign products.
Some environmentalists argue that there is no point concentrating on individual products, since it is the whole economic system that is wasteful. Producers must go on selling goods, whether or not they have saturated the market, in order to stay in business. Some encourage the replacement of those goods by attempting to make them obsolescent. Obsolescence can occur when an item breaks in a short period of time, when new models are brought out that perform better than the old ones, or when fashion changes make perfectly serviceable and functional items undesirable. This means that economic growth and the viability of many companies is dependent on waste.
In their book, Green Business: Hope or Hoax, Christopher and Judith Plant argue that green consuming may be a necessary step. However, they say it is certainly not a sufficient step forward, since it does not deal with issues such as economic growth on a finite planet, the power of transnational corporations, and the way power is structured in our society.
Because the commodity spectacle is so all-engaging, 'light' green business tends to merely perpetuate the colonization of the mind, sapping our visions of an alternative and giving the idea that our salvation can be gained through shopping rather than through social struggle and transformation. In this respect, green business at worst is a danger and a trap.