Mainstream Green

Susan and I were talking the other night about the number of “green living” commercials that have flooded the channels we watch regularly — HGTV, Discovery, and Food Network.

In one hour of viewing, we may see ads for one network’s Green Home Giveaway, Wal-Mart ads for CFL bulbs, GMC hawking hybrid Yukons, and Brita asking the world to get more responsible (by using their filters and not plastic bottles). This doesn’t count the commercials for the various green-themed shows that are popping up all over the TV dial.

Susan said that the green movement has hit its tipping point, and that from here on out, it will be inevitably and unavoidably mainstream. I think we’ll have to wait for the energy-production methods to hit the mainstream (as opposed to the energy-saving methods presently on the mass market) before we see a big change in society. But any way you look at it, “green” is here to stay.

Apparently, we weren’t the only ones making such observations. Arizona State University’s business journalism center released a report last fall about the surge in “green” business journalism. The study shows that of the 154 “green” stories published between 2000 and 2007, more than half were published in 2007 and three-quarters since 2006.

Slate Magazine noticed the green swell last July. Columnist Jack Shafer compared green journalism to its more nefarious cousin.

Often as sensationalistic as its yellow predecessor, green journalism tends to appeal to our emotions, exploit our fears, and pander to our vanity. It places a political agenda in front of the quest for journalistic truth and in its most demagogic forms tolerates no criticism, branding all who question it as enemies of the people.

Shafer’s point is that, often, we fail to question the facts behind green, believing instead that anything labeled “green” is inherently good. This is called “greenwashing” (another definition here, from Greenpeace, ca. 1992). The Wall Street Journal points out that watchdog groups around the world are starting to take note but says few of those groups have the authority to punish the greenwashers.

So I guess the lesson here is that while there is a strong push to take green into the mainstream, we have to remember that some marketers out there know how to misuse it. And while criticizing any effort to “save the planet” may seem like heresy, we have to remember to keep our bullshit detectors turned on, even when everybody else turns them off to save energy.


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