J500 Media and the Environment

Earth Day: yer doin’ it wrong. by bendcohen

Earth Day is great.  For one day a year, even the non-environmentalists can get together and say “You know what, I kind of like the planet.”  For forty years now, Earth Day has provided people a brief respite from being called tree huggers (at least in a derogatory way).  The problem is, when a lot of people only pay attention to sustainability on special occasions, they can get it wrong.

I first thought about this point a few years ago when the story came out that Sir Paul McCartney, an avid environmentalist when not busy being the guy who wrote “Hey Jude”, had some kind of especially green automobile delivered to him in England from Japan.  Now, no matter how it was transferred, getting a car from east Asia to the (for them) far end of Europe would take a lot of money and a lot of energy.  Apparently the plan was that the car, a Lexus L600H, would be transported by boat.  Sadly, the news broke quickly that this didn’t happen, and it was delivered by airplane. The estimate given for how much this increased the carbon footprint of the car: about 100 times.

"Know what gets great mileage? My yellow subma-" "Don't even start, Ringo."

I roll my eyes when celebrities try to take up a cause and occasionally fail miserably, because no matter how insignificant they are supposed to be to a movement, inevitably the media will focus on them, and the ironic situations that frequently arise from the attempted mixing of two different kinds of green lifestyles.  One of those is the kind of “green” that traditionally gets the label, that of somebody who tries to lead a sustainable life, in The Cute One’s case by buying an awesome, really expensive hybrid car.

I am reminded by the occasional poor attempts at encouraging the right thing on Earth Day this year.  During an Earth Day celebration at KU’s Kansas Union, where different environmental groups passed out literature and hosted educational games, there was one booth that got my attention.  After picking up a reusable water bottle from them, I noticed that they were the source of a t-shirt I had seen with some frequency that day.  It was green, and read on the front “My shirt is green.  Are you?”

While a little condescending, my biggest problem with the shirt wasn’t what it was, but how people acquired it.  You see, the whole Earth Day fair was sponsored by Coca-Cola, which has a corporate partnership with the University.  Needless to say, they liked having their name on something positive, and also wanted a good way to make money off of it, which I don’t begrudge them.  Back to the t-shirts: you got one by buying two bottles of soda.  Buy more of an unhealthy product packaged in a non-biodegradable object, and get a free t-shirt (made of organic cotton!), without even a note to be sure to recycle those bottles.  In related news, authorities still have not located Irony’s body, though have assured us that they will continue searching around the clock.

In fairness, I later asked somebody working at the fair who assured me that the exchange was a mix-up.  The plan was that the t-shirts would be a new line made out of recycled plastic, but this fell through, and they hoped using organic cotton would be sufficient for people.  For me, it wasn’t.  For everyone I mentioned it to, it wasn’t.  There’s a difference between supporting sustainability, and giving it lip-service on a holiday, and this was cleanly the latter.


Greenwashing Frustration by beccan

We’ve all done it. While walking through Target we see two products in the same aisle, one with “natural” written across the label and the other well, without. Of course we pick the one that says natural to place in our basket, because natural is better, right? Maybe not…

Greenwashing is when companies mislead consumers into buying a product because it claims to be environmentally-friendly, natural or organic when in reality it probably isn’t. The seven greenwashing sins explains the details and “sins” of greenwashing. I was curious and wanted to know the products that were greenwashed so I did more research and came across this article with the top-ten greenwashed campaigns of 2009. I was shocked. It included leading companies like Audi, Coca-Cola and Microsoft. I was interested in the Audi campaign because of my post last week about the Audi Green Police commercial that aired during the Superbowl. This Audi advertisement, though, compares driving an Audi A3 to riding a bike. I thought Audi was doing a good job in making their vehicles more eco-friendly, but maybe I was just too naïve.

The car that eliminates any need for foreign oil is foreign made. Audi may need to re-think how eco-friendly it really is.


Researching this made me so angry. Why are advertisers getting away with this? The morals of these companies are plummeting and nobody seems to care. I felt mistrust in the very companies and brands that I have been loyal to my whole life. My frustration fizzled slightly at least when I found this article that said the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is revamping its environmental marketing guidelines for the first time in twelve years. It’s about time that this deception comes to an end.

Until the FTC updates its greenwashing guidelines, I wanted some sort of set of rules to follow to help decipher between fraud and true eco-friendly products. The FTC recommends following these guidelines while shopping and attempting to distinguish between eco-friendly and eco-fraud.

Being a strategic communications major, I am embarrassed that companies are advertising like this and knowingly selling products that make false claims.It is everything that I have been taught not to do in my past four years in the school of journalism at the Universtiy of Kansas. We put trust in the companies we buy from and if these companies are lying to us about being eco-friendly, are they lying to us about other aspects of the company? This has become a huge problem and it is about time that it is fixed.

Becca N.