Is Recycling for Girly Men? Naaaah …

Tom Matlack explores why caring for the environment is a crucial issue for good men.

The Range Rover was filled with kids of various ages and both genders bellowing “Defying Gravity,” from the Broadway show Wicked at the top of their lungs (really not sure why, one of those don’t ask, don’t tell kind of parenting things). I was happy to get out and fill that massive gas tank at an Irving station in the middle of nowhere Maine. Just as the machine flipped over $10 on the way to the cut-off of $75, I noticed the gentleman just the other side of the pump, filling up a 70’s-era Ford pick up truck that looked like it must have a couple hundred grand on it. And its owner took note of me, too. He had on a green John Deere hat with mud splattered all over it, and he smiled through a toothless grin like he was hiding something pretty damn funny.

“$4 a gallon,” he started up. “Can you believe it?” I tried to make out his age, but given his beat-up face and poor dental work, it was really hard to tell. I nodded in agreement and commented that I, too, found it ridiculous—just in hopes this guy wasn’t carrying a shotgun.

“You hear about those boys over Portland way?” he continued in a conspiratorial tone. I shook my head no, but he barely noticed. He had clearly had a story to tell. “A fuel truck pulled up for his first stop. Went in to take a leak and left the diesel engine running. Came out and the truck was gone. And they never did find that rig…”

Now I was laughing.  “How many gallons on that thing?”

“Ten thousand. I bet they had a big hole already dug for the thing back on the farm and just buried it with a pump. Lifetime supply. Forty grand worth.”

“Now that’s an environmental program I could really get behind,” I told him as I replaced my pump. He laughed and drove off.

When I got home, I searched the web and called the Portland police. There was no record of a missing fuel truck. Either the guy in the pick-up was pulling my leg, or perhaps he had a lifetime supply of fuel tucked away in some big hole somewhere in the Maine woods.

Either way it got me thinking about what men really think about the attempt to recycle our way to a greener world.


A recent Michigan State study found that more women than men believe global warming is real. I am not so sure that acknowledgement of the problem is different between genders, but perhaps how we think about solving it. There’s a whole school of thought that only women can save Mother Earth. I’m not buying it.

And then, Jennifer Grayson points out that there are gender differences in who cares about WHAT related to the environment, and at least historically, women are more concerned about the household effects and men about global level issues.

Running off with ten thousand gallons of fuel might be one manly solution to global warming, (or, more likely, a cowardly one), but as I thought about it more I realized that some of the most macho guys I know have become focused on starting companies that are attempting to conserve energy and provide new energy sources

When I met Jack Roberts two decades ago, he told me that he started out buying and selling boxcars in Georgia. Or it’s possible I only dreamt that since he has grown to such a mythic figure in my mind. When I think of a good old boy in the best sense of the word, I think of my mentor Jack.

Jack was my investment banker throughout countless very tight spots. He was always someone on whom I could rely for quiet strength, a quick wit, and negotiating strategy. He’s the kind of guy’s guy that will never retire because he enjoys work too much. He would see the humor in the story about the guy who stole the fuel truck, for sure.

He’d always been an expert in media and telecom, so frankly I was shocked to hear that Jack had embraced the green movement; founding a company called Consert that has become the leader in consumer load management. Consert converts electric consumption in homes and small businesses into cost-effective, clean sources of capacity and energy reserves for utilities. But after getting over that shock, I wasn’t surprised at all that Jack’s company has jumped to the forefront of how to convert monitor homes and save energy through remote control. They’ve also named the city of San Antonio, a green hotbed, as their new headquarters.

Consert’s agreement with CPS Energy will result in the reduction of 250 megawatts of peak demand over the next four years using Consert’s Virtual Peak Plant software and will create more than 150 new jobs in San Antonio over the next few years.

“San Antonio has become a leader in clean tech initiatives,” Jack told me. “City leaders share our vision and are committed to a new energy economy, so this move was a perfect fit for us.


Susan Hunt Stevens is quickly becoming one of the leading voices on green issues. She has been asked to chair the interactive technology panel at the South by Southwest Eco Conference. She founded to build an online community of people striving to bring green actions into their daily life. The community started out for green moms but has morphed into a licensed model for male-dominated businesses such as Major League Baseball. I recently sat down with Susan to talk about gender and the environmental movement.

What the hell does taking your shoes off do for the environment?

What often gets overlooked in conversation about “the environment” is the effect that environment has on human health. In this case, removing your shoes is the personal health equivalent of washing your hands. It’s about ridding your indoor air, which is already way more polluted than outdoor air, of toxins (lead, cadmium, pesticides, etc) that come in on the bottom of your shoes and get into your carpets and floors. These toxins can particular affect little ones in your life who spend time on the floor—pets, babies, kids—who then put their hands or paws in their mouths. The EPA says that the simple act of removing your shoes and using a doormat can reduce contaminants in your home by nearly 60%.

I now recycle. But it’s more about being worn down than any belief that it will do any good. Please enlighten me, and all the other guys, why personal recycling will have any impact on the global environment.

From an environmental perspective, recycling hits on just about every “type” of eco-benefit. First, it reduces the demand for natural, and often finite, resources like petroleum and metals and keeps forests from being destroyed. Second, it reduces air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Third, it saves energy and water. Let’s use plastic bottles as an example. Why does it matter if you recycle it? According to Earth911, producing new plastic products from recycled materials uses two-thirds less energy than making products from raw (virgin) materials, and it reduces the demand for fossil fuels (about 70% of plastic is domestic natural gas). But even if you don’t care about “the environment,” keep in mind that every time you put something in the garbage you are paying for it to be hauled to a landfill and stored. It’s becoming increasingly harder (and more expensive) to find places to put all that garbage. Recycled material not only avoids landfill costs in your town budget, but it also can be a source of revenue for your town.

But true recycling is more than just sticking your cans and newspapers in the bin. Most environmental impact occurs before we ever open that aluminum can, so buying products made from recycled materials is just as important as sorting. That’s why the mantra Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle is in that order. First use less. Then reuse what you have. Then recycle.

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About Tom Matlack

Thomas Matlack is a venture capitalist.


  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Just for grins, check out “climategate I” and “climategate II”. The whole AGW thing’s been busted. The University of East Anglia, one of the two go-to places for climate data has recently said–given their previous issues, an admission against interest–that global warming stopped in 1997. However, if you want big federal subsidies–see Solyndra–you have to keep pretending.
    Recycling can be economically or environmentally beneficial. It is always beneficial to those who think themselves superior types. One town–see Mark Steyn–has recycle bins but dumps them in the landfill. It serves the larger purpose, making people feel good about themselves.
    Does recycling glass cost more in energy–collect, separate, transport, store, and remelt the stuff–than using the basic raw materials? If you have to ask, you’re a bad person. The answer is irrelevant.
    And why in the name of all that’s holy is this is this a gender question? Some of the most tiresome ecofreaks I’ve ever met have been guys.

  2. Most consuming of useless junk is being done by women, but anyway. Why does the GMP insult me by talking the position that if they attach recycling to being “macho” or some variation of that, if I don’t already recycle, I will suddenly start because someone has told me its what “real men” do?

    Where do you get the idea that your target audience are this stupid.

    • There is no credible evidence that most consuming of useless junk is being done by women.

      This website says it wants men to be good, but it tolerates lots of misogyny.

      • JT

        Yes there is credible evidence that women women consume the most, ask any advertiser, compare the average woman bathroom and wardrobe to the average males. Look at how 80% of the advertising and shopping space in malls is devoted to women.

        Women control over 80% of discretionary spending. (google it)

        Also, I see you definition of misogyny is a man saying something that you don’t like, even if its the truth. Grow up.

        Women make 80 percent of health care decisions and 68 percent of new car purchase decisions
        In 31 percent of the marriages where women work, women now out-earn their husbands (See the “*” below).

        Women purchase over 50 percent of traditional male products, including automobiles, home improvement products and consumer electronics

        • Facts about the “Purse Power” of women:

          Women are the dominant spending force in almost every retail/business category and are the most affluent and influential consumers of today.
          Of all consumer purchases, women are responsible for 83%
          Homes: Directly purchase or influence the purchase of 91% of all new homes
          Home fix-up purchases: More than 55%
          Retail: Account for 88% of customers in the US & Canada
          Auto: Make more than 50% of all auto purchases and influence 85%.
          Home furnishings: 94%
          Vacation choices: 92%
          House purchases: 91%
          Consumer electronics purchases: 51% (women are involved in 89% of all consumer electronic purchase decisions)
          Home Computers: Account for 66% of all purchases
          Bank Accounts: Hold 89% of all accounts
          Credit Cards: Women carry 76 million credit cards, 8 million more then men—(Fast Company, 2004)
          Healthcare: Make 80% of Healthcare decisions and account for 67% of spending
          Health: Purchase 65% of herbal remedies, vitamins and minerals and purchase 80% of all healthcare
          Beauty and hygiene: Purchase more than 90%
          Clothes, accessories: Wear more than 90% of items such as jewelry and perfume
          Meetings: Plan the meetings and comprise the majority of certified meeting planners
          Office Supplies: Purchase $44.5 billion
          Lawn movers: Purchase approximately 81% of riding lawn mowers
          All facts noted above are from the 2005 Wow! Quick Facts book and the U.S. Census Bureau, 2004 – from here

      • The Bad Man says:

        As reported by Ms. Magazine, Dec. 2010

        Women, according to the JEC report, control 73 percent of spending within their households, which is equivalent to approximately $4 trillion in yearly discretionary spending. Furthermore, women are more likely than men to control daily expenditures in more than half of middle and upper-class household

        In a 2008 study by the Pew Research Center:

        Of 1,260 couples, married or living together, surveyed this summer, women wield more decision-making power at home.

        In a 2007 study reported in the Journal of Counseling Psychology.

        Researchers found that wives, on average, displayed more power than their husbands during problem-solving discussions, regardless of who brought up the topic of discussion.

      • The Bad Man says:

        KT says:
        There is no credible evidence that most consuming of useless junk is being done by women.
        This website says it wants men to be good, but it tolerates lots of misogyny.

        You are a liar, telling the truth is not misogyny.

  3. G’day Tom

    Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: yes, absolutely.

    I also like – and we live by – ‘Think Global, Act Local’, which I interpret to mean do what you can at a local & micro level (as a citizen consumer), and two very important results may be achieved.
    1. My children copy my behaviour, and in their own small way, start to care for the environment too, and grow into adults believing in a sustainable future.
    2. If most people ‘Think Globally, and Act Locally’, together, as a community and a society we will make a difference.

    We’re all in this together: consumers, corporations, the next generation. No ‘us and them’ for me.

    I was raised in a conventional, middle-class, religious family; now I am faithfully agnostic.
    My religion now is a belief in a sustainable future; like a devout Christian, it’s what I practise every day.



  4. The Bad Man says:

    Not much useful information in this article, but a hell of a lot of unsubstantiated stereotypes. Being the technical guy that I am with a background in environmental science, I prefer straight up facts rather than politicized moral panic.

    You completely forgot to mention the consumers! Oh no, it’s those bad corporations selling us all that useless crap. Oh yeah, isn’t it women that have the greater control of household spending? Yes, they do.

  5. Tom, thanks for pulling this material together. And thanks for the focus on this issue at The Good Men Project. I think that conservative use of our natural resources goes hand-in-hand with the personal and political challenges to be more careful about what we spend. In my view, whether the scarcity is money or natural resources, our culture is riding that giant pendulum swing back to more careful use of resources. At least, that is my hope. The pendulum is swinging that way, whether we choose to swing with it or not. And the choice to swing with it, will be the one that truly matters.

  6. Terry Washington says:

    I disagree to with not just the phrase “girly men”(popularized by uber macho Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California to desrcribe his Democratic critics)but the smug implication we can leave “green causes” to the women. The planet is far TOO important to have its safety conveniently consigned to the concerns of one sex, just as war is too important to be left to the generals-it will need BOTH sexes working together to save it!

  7. Eating greener (including less meat) is not only good for the environment, it’s better for your own health.  I try to each mainly organic and/or locally grown fruit and vegetables, with the exception of fruits that have thick skin which have thick skin  – there is little to no benefit to buying those organic, as the skin protects the fruit. 

    I also absolutely refuse to eat any soy product, anything with high fructose corn syrup, or anything else that I can trace back to the devil (Monsanto).  If you don’t know what I mean, watch Food, Inc.

    Lastly, please stop making everything about gender when approaching men on issues.  It’s not; furthermore, it’s self-defeating because it turns most men off of whatever topic you are writing about.

    Just talk about what would benefit men, their families, and/or the world at large.   Leave gender out of it. It doesn’t fit or help.

  8. I have to take issue with your use of the term ‘girly men’ Tom.

    Firstly I don’t really know what a ‘girly man’ is. Secondly, why can’t ‘girly men’ also be ‘good men’?

    You seem to be equating environmental consideration with some kind of ‘real man’ image. Which to me just seems silly. Especially when you comment that women are often quite environmentally aware anyway. And they aren’t men at all. They are *actual* girls.

    • I also take issue with Tom’s term, girly men, because it denigrates women.

      Tom’s articles often have lots of sexist language, which makes they very difficult to read.

      Tom seems to view the male as the norm of humanity and the female as some sort of deficient “other”.

      Tom seems to think that macho is a good term and probably believes that it’s just a Spanish word for masculinity. But all of my Hispanic friends tell me that macho/machismo is not just about masculinity. It’s about male dominance and contempt for women.


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