The Green Identity

The ongoing quest to define (and redefine) Seattleites.

By James Ross Gardner September 21, 2011 Published in the October 2011 issue of Seattle Met

Photo: Malyugin / Shutterstock

MARKET RESEARCHERS LOVE TO TELL us what we are. And, say the demographic diviners at Manhattan-based Scarborough Research, Seattleites are—ready for this?—Super Greenies.

See, it’s not enough to be simply green. In the nomenclature arms race that is modern marketing, it seems, you need a muscly superlative, an adjective capable of leaping a bar chart in a single bound.

“All About the Super Greenies,” a study Scarborough released this summer—complete with a photo illustration of a man ripping off his Oxford shirt Clark Kent–like to reveal a neon green superhero costume—tells us that in this wet emerald corner of the Lower 48, we’re avid Cooking Channel-watching gardeners. That we’re ultrasavvy social media users. That we’re almost three times more likely than other Americans to donate to political organizations—and 90 percent more likely to have volunteered for something within the past year.

It’s a flattering distinction until you recall just how often Seattleites get defined and redefined. Remember that last year the computer-virus slayers at Norton called us the Riskiest Online City, and a Kirkland-based GPS provider called us the Ninth Most Congested City. We get our feelings hurt when labeled the Most Miserable Sports City (thanks Forbes), get our ghoul on when called the Halloween Capital of America (holla Zillow), and turn competitive when Men’s Health deems us Most Active (suck it, second-place San Francisco).

There are titles we share: Stuck in a dance of erudite one-upmanship with Minneapolis, we get named the Most Literate City about every other year. And titles we find cheesy: Ritz Crackers called us the Most Fun City in America (we meet again, top-tier neighbor San Francisco). The cracker study favored our preponderance of outdoor barbecues and penchant for block parties.

Even more deflating, the Scarborough report, like nearly all the aforementioned rankings, is a thinly disguised marketing tool. “Today’s environmentally focused consumers tend to be members of Generation X, are well-educated, and take their finances seriously,” one section proclaims. (Suggested out-loud reading voice: infomercial announcer.) “They are top spenders in all retail categories measured by Scarborough, from everyday items to specialty goods like fine jewelry and luxury cars.”

Modern marketing requires a muscly superlative, an adjective capable of leaping a bar chart in a single bound.


The report defines Super Greenies as “adults who engage in 10 or more green activities, such as recycling, using rechargeable batteries, or reusing grocery store bags.” Thirteen percent of Seattleites fall into this category, we’re told, compared to only 5 percent of Americans.

But Scarborough, whose slogan is, “We Know the Locals Nationwide,” has a lot to learn about locals here. For one, don’t underestimate our eggheadedness. Crunch some figures to try to define us and we’ll throw one of our megaminds at you.

Let’s see, for example, what University of Washington professor emeritus of geography Richard Morrill thinks of the Super Greenie study: “The numbers are absurdly high,” balks Morrill, who has studied the population of Puget Sound for the last four decades and coedited the book Seattle Geographies. “As much as 10 percent may aspire to greenness, but no more than 3 percent of households could reach the extreme combination of commonalities.”

Another pro tip: The quickest way to get us to dismiss your study is to label us—no matter how many times you remind us that we’re in constant battle with our California neighbor for demographers’ affection. (We’re ranked the No. 2 bastion for Scarborough’s so-called Super Greenies; San Francisco beat us out for the top spot.)

Still, we were flattered anew when Scientific American crowned us Most Tech-Friendly this summer.

Guess who placed second.

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