It ain’t easy bein’ green. Despite what Al Gore, Walmart, BP, Monsanto, Toyota, and every other corporation to capitalize on the recent rise of the ecological consciousness tells you, sustainability is not a matter of changing to new light bulbs or investing in ethanol. Most advertisers these days are pitching their products as something you can do/buy to be a more responsible person on our ailing planet. More often than not these advertising strategies are what is called “Greenwashing.” Greenwashing works like this:
Let’s say I make a product that sucks for the environment; gasoline for example. Let’s say I want environmentalists to stop protesting my headquarters and lobbying for oversight that would reduce my profitability. What’s a oil exec to do? I invest a relatively small amount of money in a windfarm which my company bought out for pennies on the dollar and then launch an advertising campaign costing millions detailing how my company invests in alternative energy at the same time that we’re providing you, the consumer, with gasoline; which you need anyway. So why not buy it from me, we’re greener than the other guys?
Here’s an example:
Playing on Kermit the Frog’s classic lament about the challenges of being a green skinned muppet, and without much in the way of actual qualifiers other than “Hybrid,” Ford presents this brand new giant SUV as the solution to the challenging prospect of environmental stewardship. It’s strongly associated by way of imagery that this SUV is at home with the backpacking, nature loving environmentalists.
It’s no shock that advertisers are taking advantage of this newly incorporated trend towards environmental responsibility. What is troubling is the process that corresponds to Gramsci’s resistance/incorporation cycle wherein a strong radical movement; the environmental movement that grew out of the sixties and continues strongly today; and by incorporating some aspects of it’s demands is able to silence the rest. I’ve been conscious of or involved in some aspect of the environmental movement for ten years now and I’ve witnessed the changes in the culture around issues of sustainability. People are beginning to realize that something is terribly wrong with how we’re treating the planet, but lest they feel like anything is out of control they are now offered a plethora of products to buy their identity as a ethical and responsible member of life on this planet.
The problem isn’t just with advertising, the problem is us. If you haven’t watched the story of stuff, take a moment and do it now:
The story of stuff show how important it is to be conscious of the entire story of production that a product goes through before you buy it. It identifies the many moments in this story where activists have the potential to intervene. Finally it paints an optimistic picture of what the future could look like if we took accountability for the entire system and re-designed it.
So called “green” may or may not be better than the average product. Compact Florescent Lightbulbs do indeed save energy. They don’t save enough, and they certainly don’t save the planet. The entire world (particularly the first-world nations) needs to drastically reduce it’s energy consumption, it’s toxic-crap production, and enact radical conservation laws for us to even have a chance for a long and relatively healthy future on this planet. Even those drastic changes, were they to occur, may not be enough.