Thursday, 14 May 2009

...i can feel a rant coming on.. sorry

This blog is now Carbon Neutral! (But only if you turn your computer off right now!)

I am sooooo sick of greenwash.

For those that may not know, "greenwash" is a term that has entered the lexicon in recent years years, and is expained by Wikipedia as...

"the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly, such as by presenting cost cuts as reductions in use of resources."

The article goes on the say that...

"In December 2007, environmental marketing firm Terra Choice gained national press coverage for releasing a study called "The Six Sins of Greenwashing" which found that more than 99% of 1,018 common consumer products randomly surveyed for the study were guilty of greenwashing. A total of 1,753 environmental claims made, with some products having more than one, and out of the 1,018 studied only one was found not guilty of making a false or misleading green marketing claim."

The Wikpedia article goes on to list Terra Choice's Seven Sins of Greenwashing, which makes an interesting read. Theres also plenty of blogs and stuff on this new phenomena.

One of the reasons I care about this because I am sick of being advertised to as if I'm a utter brainless gorm (feel free to disagree). I also hate seeing companies succeed by being disingenuous, and having thousands of well meaning consumers falling for their greenwash, and go out and buy the product with the best intentions of being environmentally responsible.

I saw an ad online the other day that got me really annoyed, and has triggered this post. It was for the new Apple MacBook, from the ad, "the world's greenest family of notebooks", and had lots of lovely green colour and images cute, green cartoony images of planet earth. The main problem I have with this, and it's one of the most common forms of greenwashing, is the advertisers aim of having potential buyers think that because the new MacBook is "greenest" it is therefore good for the environment.

The new MacBook is not good for the environment, it is not even "better" for the environment. The fact is that it is slightly less bad for the environment than its competitors. Being slightly less bad does not make something "good" or even "better"... it is still bad, just slightly less so. Low tar cigarettes are not "better" for you ("better" being a positive word) than regular smokes, and they are certainly not "good" for you. The new Macbooks aren't green, they are just marginally less black. It employs a very clever choice of word though, as technically speaking their claim of being greenest cannot be so easily challenged. They fall short of saying the notebook is outright "green" (and green is good right?), though that is the perception, along with the green colours that dominate the ad, they are trying to create. So I guess the term "greenest" means the best of a bad lot.... though that doesn't mean good.

A Toyota Prius hybrid car is not a "green" car as many of its drivers would like to think because it still requires tremendous amounts of energy from burning fossil fuels to build and run. True it requires less than conventional cars, but it is still no friend of the environment.

That scottish restaurant trys to spruik its green credentials by announcing its new coffee is now "Rainforest Alliance Coffee". While I'm characteristically cynical of the truth behind claims that "Rainforest Alliance Coffee" is true fair trade coffee (that's fair trade, as opposed to Fair Trade (TM)), what I do know is that coffee plantations exist in places where rainforests used to be. Hardly anything green about that. The main benficial claims about this supposedly green beverage on the Mac Coffee website are...
  • "MacDonalds coffee is grown on Rainforest Alliance (TM) certified plantations (OK, the workers get "better" pay than some other workers, perhaps $1.20 per day, as opposed to $1 per day)
  • The coffee bean begins life as a seed within the coffee cherry (umm, how does that differ from the coffee beans grown everywhere else around the?)
  • Each bean is handpicked by local farm workers (and your point is what exactly?)
  • Beans are expertly blended and roasted for quality and flavour (well I hope so)
  • Enjoy the taste knowing you are making a difference! (Please show me this supposed point of difference. I read it three times and I still can't find it)
I looked up the Rainforest Alliance website and it's full of greenwash, including something about "sustainable chocolate" (which will make one of my readers very happy because I assume this means a form of chocolate that cannot run out, like the Magic Pudding). It also says that its coffee is "grown on a farm where the environment is protected", so I guess after they cleared the rainforest, bulldozed the land and setup the plantation, they put up fences. The Rainforest Alliance is nothing but a business selling certification by masquerading as a charity.

It's pretty easy to find the greenwash down at the local supermarket, it's everywhere. A dead giveaway are the products with the green treefrog/dolphin/tree or smiling planet on the package, or claims that by buying this product you will help save the planet because it contains of 20% less poison than the competition. I'm sure all the little fishies out there are saying "Ooh thankyou for buying the new Green Rainforest Bleach. The slightly lower ammonia levels really make my gills feel fresh and clean!" Lately, the giant oil companies have been getting in on the act with lots of feelgood wishy-washy words to make us think that if "green petrol" is not already here, then it is not far away.

I'll concede that some of these new "green" products are the lesser of many evils, and in theory they may help to slow the inevitable decline of the health of the earth (perhaps by a year or two). But don't fall for this "help save the planet" nonsense. If you really want to help save the planet, just don't buy it! Can you live without it? Are there other non-damaging/polluting/energy-intensive ways to do it or get the same thing/result? Can you borrow it? I'm no environmental angel, and while I may be "greener" than my neighbours, it doesn't mean I am green per say. I don't think the planet is thanking me for only having my lights on when I'm awake, or because my heating system puts out 135 tonnes of C02 into the skies every year, compared to our neigbours 155 tonnes (those vandals!).

Now you might be thinking "Gee that Man at the Pub, he's a pedantic son of a bitch" as I often do, but I believe its important that we can see through the greenwash, as it is doing tremendous disservice to the real, grass roots environmental movement. Many people have been hoodwinked to thinking they can be environmentally responsible through our favourite pastime of consuming consumables. But if we think we are so clever as to be able to develop or repackage products and buy our way out of trouble we are fooling ourselves. The corporatisation and commidification of the environmental movement may very well be the death nell of this planet.

Your just lucky I didn't get started on our politicians favourite green oxymoron, "Clean Coal".



At 14 May 2009 at 18:28 , Blogger Kath Lockett said...

Well said, very well said actually.

As for 'sustainable chocolate' (and I thank the official nod to what I assume was in my direction), I feel the same way. Even Fair Trade (TM) has been shown in the chocolate-arena to yes, mean that the growers get a decent rate but the middle man continues to add a premium on top of that and not 'donate' or 'lose' a brass razoo.

At 14 May 2009 at 19:50 , Blogger Miles McClagan said...

My car is carbon neutral....when it sits in the garage for a week doing bugger all...

At 14 May 2009 at 23:05 , Blogger the projectivist said...

good rant.
i love it when you rant.
my favourite one is still the SuperMarketRant.
now THAT was a rant!

At 15 May 2009 at 00:03 , Blogger The Blakkat said...

You rant with the best. You're articulate, researched (at least it you make it seem that way) and make a shit load of sense. Rants like this a commodity in themselves. Personally, I don't own a car for the simple the reason that I can't justify the consumption of petrol I would use as the single user of that car. It won't make a jot of difference - polar bears won't be spared their home because I don't own a car - but it's the principle of shunning over consumption and not using more than you have to that I'm aspiring to live by. I don't buy into 'green marketing' but I abhor a light that's left on for no good reason. Possibly it's a contradiction, but then again, the what's the lesser of many evils when one must buy/consume something...

At 16 May 2009 at 16:04 , Blogger Lorna Lilo said...

But wait there's more. Now the Foster's Group Wolf Blass wine makers will be producing wine in plastic bottles...'in a bid to capture a slice of the green market' they say. We've been suckers for marketing ever since low fat food made us fat, the newly generated need for energy efficient electrical appliances made us throw away perfectly good whitegoods to rust in a landfill somewhere and supermarkets have us believe that advertising their store in plastic bags that would take an industrial chemist to destroy is somehow good for the planet. Jesus, now you've got me started.


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