A funny thing keeps happening with the Green movement and the economic recession.
The advertisers and corporate sponsors keep getting more "green" and the ways that we can help pull ourselves up from the bootstraps keep getting weirder. So consumer confidence is an indicator of our economy. And the stock market is an indicator of our economy.
In the NY Times on Friday I read that the Wallstreet brokers who are letting go of their 2nd and 3rd houses are having an impact on local economies in Kinnebunk Port and Martha's Vineyard. Well, in the heartland, the impact is everywhere. We don't need to hear how the down tick of folks with 3 homes is hurting the common man. I'm not against you having a 2nd or 3rd home if that's what makes you happy. But it is not a common interest story for me or my cohorts either. I'm doing good to hang on to my 1 home. And working hard to do so.
So each Sunday the local paper arrives with more ads for Flat Panel displays and new cars. And there is a part of me that is plucked by the heart string that asks, "What can I do to help?" But I am pretty certain that buying a new Ford or GM product won't do much to stimulate the overall health of the US economy.
Okay, so at the Sustainability and Social Media discussion I participated in at SXSW Interactive this year had some interesting perspectives. And some felt the vibe was contentious. I didn't think so, but I was also a contender with an opinion to express. One of the panelists, responding to an audience member's confrontation, began to talk about where we DO need to focus in the Greening of our economy. And now I have to paraphrase the conversation because I can't recall the exact words.
The other panelist was talking about focusing on Macro-Impact issues that need our attention such as nuclear energy, hydrogen cars, less expensive solar arrays. And in this slipped in, "It's not about buying compact florescents and turning off our computers at night."
At this contentious moment, I interrupted to say, "Well, it IS also about those things, specifically."
"Then we disagree on something."
And the panelist went on with the response to the audience member. So what is important? Is it mainly the Macro-Energy issues that we need to focus on? Can we forget about changing to florescent lights, buying hybrid cars and turning the thermostat in our house to use less energy?
Nuclear Power has promise. And I believe CLEAN COAL is a LIE promoted by the coal and power industries. And solar power and battery technologies need to be funded to the hilt. Yes, these are true, BUT... If you are not aware of how much energy you are using in your personal life, if you are not responsible to reduce your power needs, then you are passing the carbon buck on to someone else.
We all have to do everything to reduce our energy requirements. And I guess that's why I get irrationally angry at every Hummer I see driving down the street. And Excursions, Tahoes, Suburbans, F1Million Pickup trucks make me mad. And the Tahoe H-Y-B-R-I-D I saw at the gas station last night made me chuckle. I guess it's better than nothing.
[And I am coming back around to the beginning here, so stay with me for one more digression.]
Greenwashing was a topic that I introduced in my opening speech and was picked up on by the same questioner from the audience who declaired something about being "all for greenwashing" if it makes a difference. So I did get riled on that one, but it was because she was using the "greenwashing" term incorrectly.
"Greening" or "going green" is all good. And companies trying to put on the Green mantle should be patted on the back for their efforts but they should also be patted down for BS in their PR and Marketing messages. The example discussed was Clorox who introduced a Green line of products a while back, Green Works. And the audience member used that as an example. "So if Clorox wants to do stuff to be more green, then I applaud them."
The problem with the Clorox Green Works line was they were using plastic bottles that were not from recycled materials and the bottles themselves were made from a plastic that was NOT easily recyclable. So good for them for taking some of the poison out of their cleaning product, but they missed the other half of the issue. Many companies put out spray bottles that are 100% recyclable. So why would P & G put out a new "green" line and not use bottles that could be recycled? One word, PROFIT.
So Clorox cleaned up the cleaning fluid a bit and forgot to clean up the bottle itself; the part that's ending up in the land fills. That is Greanwashing.
So can we buy enough flat panel displays to bring the economy back? Should we let the Wallstreeters keep their additional homes so that the helpers keeping them pretty can make a descent living? And does the person in the Hummer or the FLEXfuel-badged 11mpg megacar have to be an asshole?
I'm pretty sure the answer to all three questions above is NO. And I'd rather ALL of us do EVERYTHING we can do reduce our energy consumption. But as former president Bush and his energy commission said, that is a lifestyle choice, not a choice that the government should impose on it's people.
So the Green products have to BE better and they have to WORK better and COMPETE better. Cause in the end, Green IS A BRAND. And unless GREEN is taken to 100% of the production chain (yes, even the Prius is suspect on this one) then it is only partially Green.
And if the Green is applied to create a false halo of doing good without any real change or environmental improvement, then indeed we are describing GREENWASHING.