Skip to content

Greenwashing: Why Green Magazine Issues are Stupid

May 8, 2009

I promise….I will get back to the coffee series really soon, but I just had to share this first.

The topic today is really all about Greenwashing.

I just read an article in Environmental Leader (an online daily source of neato and interesting greenie stuff, that was highlighting the fact that ‘Green’ issues of magazines are under-performing.
Gee….do you think it might be because in a bad economy, consumers don’t want to think about anything but keeping their heads above water? Or perhaps by offering one or two ‘green’ issues each year, magazines are saying that we only need to think about ‘green’ once or twice a year? It’s the same reason I think Valentine’s Day is ridiculous. Giving people an excuse to compartmentalize important ideas, that they should probably think about every day, is what got us here in the first place. How many successful relationships do you know, that have lasted for years when the couple only does nice things for each other on V-Day?

Green is not a once-a-year problem. For WAY too long we have all, as a culture, collectively decided that we will only deal with problems when they happen. “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” Right? The single biggest issue that needs to be addressed is the fact that we have stopped questioning. As a culture, we have stopped thinking about the consequences and implications of how what we do today affects what will happen tomorrow.

The generally accepted definition of sustainability goes something like this:
Live your life (or run your business) in such a way that you are not compromising future generations’ ability to do the same.

So, you want to know why ‘green’ magazine issues are stupid? Because they give us an excuse to only think about how bad the environment has really gotten, and what people are doing to help, just once a year. An alternative you ask? Why not integrate sustainable concepts into the fabric of their publications? Green should not be a section of a magazine, or a single issue. Green is a shift in consciousness, it has to be talked about and explored as at least a subtext in everything we do and plan for. For example, when Newsweek talks about the president’s latest trip to somewhere important, why is there not also a conversation about how he got there, the fuel use, and implications thereof? Or, when a beauty magazine talks about a great new makeup product, why not also talk about the fact that the ingredients are known to cause cancer? What ever happened to investigative journalism? Oh yeah, bloggers, I almost forgot.

I know that this is a broad sweeping political and financial issue that I have no intention of tackling here, but my point is, if we treat Green like a trend, it will be one. Consumers will get totally sick of hearing about it and it will go the way of the dodo bird and Hannah Montana (I’m going out on a limb here and saying that the girl’s days in the public eye are numbered…I’m just sayin’…).

So, my friends, before your collective attention span is totally spent, listen up!

‘Buying green’ is dumb. Yep, I said it. $150 bamboo pants will not save the world, they will only serve as a reminder in your closet, ten years from now, of that phase you went through when ‘being eco-chic was totally ‘in’.
Compact flourescent light bulbs will not save the world. They are cool, and I do think they are a good move, but they are not perfect, and they are not a solution to the energy crisis.
Green Marketing is like a fish on a bicycle. It is everything we hate about mass media. Don’t tell me everything that’s good about your product without telling me the implications of buying it. Doing that is the same as any other marketing. So shut up already. I really don’t care if my shampoo comes in a recyclable package if the product itself has chemicals that can disrupt my immune system. Tell us the good, and seriously….DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE BAD…then you’ll actually have something to say that consumers want to hear! There is no such thing as green marketing. There is good marketing, and there is bad marketing.

greenwash-paint-150That’s what the word ‘greenwashing’ means…..Inflating one good ‘eco-point’, just to sell products, while ignoring all of the negatives.

In closing, don’t buy Time’s green issue. If you want to know about green, buy a ‘green’ publication or book. Ask questions, read fine print, read blogs! Subscribe to mine! Don’t let the big kids on the playground tell you what’s right and wrong, and then steal your lunch money. Stand up for yourselves! You are smarter than you know.

An that’s why Green Magazine Issues are Stupid.

P.S.- I’m struck by the irony of this image:

paint ad_Campaign_Retail_green

Greenwashing from an actual paint company….HAHAHAHAHA! Greenwashing is bait and switch advertising. It’s basically saying, “Hey, look over here at this shiny green thing! Pay no attention to the child labor behind the curtain.”  I mean seriously? Paint your house with toxic, chemical-rich paint as a way to capture, uh….Green-ology? Did I read that right? So Green really is just a color. Got it. Seriously, this goes out to ad agencies everywhere….Stop helping. Really. We’re good.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 8, 2009 5:04 pm


    Nice post. While any effort to help educate the public about sustainability is a good thing in my mind, I also abhor Valentine’s Day. I agree that “reporting” on sustainability or the environment should not be a one-off event that satisfies some sort of journalistic quota in order to claim being a part of the green movement. We need less events and more standards.

    I do have to disagree on some of your corollaries though. Buying green products (assuming they are greener than the standard) is not a waste of time. Buying green because it is “cool” is foolish, but the goal is not for a competitive brand option. Our goal is that green attributes become standard. In our capitalistic society we can do that by simply having the government regulate it (can hear the ultra conservatives brooding at even the thought) or we can try and sell it until enough people get on board. The latter seems safer.

    Neither bamboo wood products nor CFLs will save the world. But neither will PVs, wind turbines, or hydrogen fuel cells. No one technological fix is going to fix all of our problems, but using them all can make a meaningful difference. Yes, everyone knows that CFLs have mercury in them, but lithium ion batteries aren’t filled with great environmental juices either. If they are used and disposed of (recycled) properly then they can pave the way for an electric car industry which makes a big difference. CFLs are the same way.

    I think that using these products in the “green issue magazine” kind of way is indeed troublesome and unlikely making a real difference for such users because it is probably a skin deep effort–not a lifestyle change. But I wouldn’t discount tactics that are less than perfect because right now, with a society as wasteful as the US, we need all the help we can get.

    Thanks for the dialogue.

    • defininggreen permalink*
      May 8, 2009 5:38 pm


      Thanks for the thoughtful response. I totally agree on all fronts. The point that I think is important here is that ‘buying green’ is inherently an oxymoron, when we should be asking the question, “Do I need these bamboo pants?” When we are talking about lifestyle shifts, we (as in the entire green movement), lose people. Lifestyle shifts are scary and preachy and intimidating to many, which is why they turn to simple choices and changes: hybrids, CFLs, bamboo pants. These are things that really require very little change at all, but allow us to maintain the exact same lifestyle we had before. It is trading one set of ‘stuff’ for another, albeit green, set of ‘stuff’. What I want to get across is the ‘why’ behind it all. All I want is for small business people and consumers to ask questions and be critical of themselves and of those that make the things we buy. Believe me…it pains me to hammer on CFL’s and bamboo pants. I am wearing a pair. The irony and dichotomy is not lost on me on this one. The reason I started writing was because I had a very intelligent woman walk up to me at an executive conference and after hearing what I do for a living, she looked at me and said, “Can you tell me what sustainability means?” Guess what her job was. She had just been promoted to VP of CSR for a company that has recently been touting its green cred. That moment shifted my whole perspective.

      My point is just that greenies tend to speak a language that only we understand. We have, as a group totally taken for granted that just because everyone is talking about being greener, that the general population knows what the heck we are talking about, and they don’t. People only make changes when they understand why they should, and how it will affect them. No one is explaining that to Main Street America (or what’s left of it).

  2. May 9, 2009 5:29 am

    Absolutely. A lot of people claim that the barriers to progress are cost or apathy, but I really believe that our primary enemy in this arena is ignorance. Getting more people up to speed is our greatest challenge.

  3. May 10, 2009 1:17 pm

    Ooo, fun stuff here. I’m going to bring up the pink elephant standing in the middle of the room.

    I’ve always seen the challenge as related to ignorance but on a much more spiritual level. When you have vast sections of the population who have been taught for thousands of years that Earth is nothing more than a way station on their path to a mansion held in the glory of a god, you have a hard time convincing those people that we need to give a good god damn about this place. The green movement in some of the Christian communities is helping, but there are still large groups of other religions and even of the Christian persuasion that need to wake up to this idea that no matter what your religious preference, Earth is a gift to be cared for, not a tribulation to be suffered.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: