Northern Colorado Business Report
“Make your awareness a personal shade of green”
By Kai Staats
19 November 2010

A few weeks ago I stayed in a hotel for a night. Before heading to bed, I entered the shower and took note of two shower heads in an otherwise average shower/tub combination. While I could not recall the last time I had seen two shower heads in a hotel bath, I found the note affixed to the tile wall most perplexing: “SAVE THE PLANET! In an effort to save water, we have disabled one of the shower heads.”

I laughed aloud, “Are you kidding me!?” for the juxtaposition of the shower heads and note is analogous to driving a hybrid Hummer as claim to concern for the vehicle’s carbon footprint. This was not the first time I had seen such a ploy, for most hotels post “SAVE WATER! SAVE THE PLANET!” and then go on to state that reusing your towel saves resources.

Saving resources is of course a good thing, logical and true. However, the promotion of saving the planet through reduced laundry is what bothers me, for it reeks of a marketing engine gone awry–a legitimate need for change in the behavior of consumers lost in a nearly cliche phrase, relegated to the automatic “bless you” following a sneeze.

For, October 26, Wendy Koch writes “More than 95 percent of consumer products marketed as ‘green,’ … make misleading or inaccurate claims … ‘The biggest sin is making claims without any proof,’ said Scot Case of UL Environment, adding that companies want consumers to ‘just trust them.’ The report finds ‘vagueness’ is the second-leading problem (a shampoo claimed it was ‘Mother Earth approved’) in ‘greenwashing’ – a term that refers to misleading green claims.”

It is not the point of this column to tell you be more green, nor to disclaim all green products, rather to bring to light the need to be aware of the intended value of the word “green” in a society driven by slogans, catch-phrases, and over zealous marketing … and consumers who seldom give a second thought to that which they consume.

So let’s set a few things straight.

ONE: We are not separate from the environment. The environment is not something over there, a thing or a place we can point to. It is not removed from our daily lives. We cannot preview the environment on a Google map nor come home from it after our vacation. In “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth” Buckminster Fuller suggests treating our planet as a self-contained spaceship with finite resources to manage as we do a financial budget or bank account. The environment is every cubic inch of this spaceship Earth. It is our home.

TWO: The environment does not require saving. Due to the clever nature of our species, the environment is whatever we make it, and it will continue with or without our awkward, often too late attempts at making corrections to our behavior. We do, however, risk destroying much of what we take for granted.

THREE: Green is not a short-lived trend. It is not a temporary act of kindness. The reference to green was invoked as a reminder of the need for a paradigm shift, a transition to a more sustainable means of keeping balance between our desired lifestyle and the resources at our disposal.

FOUR: Green is not a religion. To say, “I believe in global warming” is to say “I believe in burnt toast.” Worship your breakfast if you so desire. Defend your slice of seven grains to the death if you must, but to state belief or disbelief in the physical change in the environment which surrounds you is only to further create factions around what should be a logical, factual conversation, a chance to debate that which we observe to be happening.

FIVE: To misuse or overuse terms such as green, eco-[insert adverb], or bio-[insert shampoo made from organic, humanely harvested carrots and Red Sea mud] is to devalue the entire concept and actually reduce effective awareness.

(This fifth and final point may appear to counter this particular issue of the Northern Colorado Business Report, so if my column is missing in the next issue, you know what happened.)

To create marketing slogans from legitimate issues often reduces their impact. Perhaps “sustainable living” invokes a more complete mental image, but it doesn’t roll off the tongue as does “green,” … and so the trend continues. It’s not that I discourage the use of green products, rather, I encourage personal awareness and subsequent choices which lead to being a well informed consumer.

In closing, I ask that when you see the note in the hotel bathroom, or read the labels on the shampoo bottles, be critical and be engaged. Don’t allow your knowledge to stop there. Think beyond the garbage disposal, trash can, and recycling bin. Challenge the marketing and challenge yourself to be educated in the entire system.

If you so choose, be green, by all means possible, but make it a personal shade of green.