The Green backlash is here, and it WILL be televised. The public is being bombarded by messages, many of them in conflict, about how to be environmentally conscious, and we are simply zoning it all out; or worse, regressing to unsustainable habits. As Alex Williams of the New York Times reports in “That Buzz in Your Ear May Be Green Noise“, we are overwhelmed with too much Green advertising, and the result is message saturation leading to consumer burnout.
To complicate matters, scientifically verifiable and sound information about Green choices is virtually nonexistent, or several sources of reliable information are in conflict. To a large extent, companies control advertisement content and warp information to be most conducive to selling their products. Even the credentials of companies with previously bullet-proof green reputations are coming into question. For example, in his in his New York Times Op-Ed piece, “Et Tu, Toyota?“, Thomas Friedman highlights how Toyota joined U.S. automakers to lobby the Federal government against tougher mileage standards, sullying Toyota’s green halo.
What the public needs is a credible, unbiased, scientifically sound message about how to make sustainable choices that is packaged and presented in a tractable and accessible manner. Of course, since there is no agreement in the scientific community about what lifestyle choices constitute sustainable, Green living, no organization or person can legitimately fill this role… but that doesn’t mean someone isn’t going to try.
Enter Seventh Generation, a Burlington, Vermont company that claims a “commitment to becoming the world’s most trusted brand of authentic, safe, and environmentally-responsible products for a healthy home.” On April 22, 2009 (Earth Day) Seventh Generation blitzed the Fine Living Network with “Big Green Lies“, an hour-long Mr. Wizard-style spot intended to “separate ‘green’ myth from fact… when it comes to the conventional wisdom of green living.” See their press release, “Tired of Big Green Lies? Tune In and Save the Planet by Putting Truth on Your Side,” for details.
“Big Green Lies” is anchored by “Investigators” Dave Holmes of MTV fame and television hostess Sara Snow, and it is masterminded by Jeffrey Hollender, Seventh Generation’s Founder and President. It stages five “experiments”, each claiming to illuminate which among a pair of sustainable living choices is the most Green. Five questions are answered: 1) Is the air cleaner inside or outside the home? 2) Which diaper is better for the environment: cloth or disposable? 3) Are hybrids or used cars Greener? 4) Which tastes better: organic or conventional food? 5) Does driving with the windows rolled down improve fuel economy?
I watched the “Investigators” botch each experiment and investigation. They measured indoor air quality by spraying cleaning solution on a Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) meter while ignoring pollutants such as particulate matter. They concluded that thick-skinned fruits and vegetables do not absorb pesticides (presumably then presides cannot enter foods through the leaves or the root system). While trying to measure fuel volume to determine gas mileage, they accidentally spilled their gasoline all over the ground. Not very inspiring.
Then, as if they were scientists who had carried out comprehensive, painstaking experiments, the “Big Green Lies” team began drawing questionable conclusions from each botched data set: 1) Inside air is dirtier than outside air; 2) Cloth and disposable diapers are equally good for the environment; 3) Used cars trump hybrid cars if driven carefully; 4) Organic food tastes better than conventional food [but is more expensive]; and 5) Rolling down the windows yields better fuel economy than pumping up the AC.
These people are not qualified to make scientific conclusions about anything. According to Jeffrey Hollender’s biography, he is an audio publishing mogul and mail order catalog executive who became interested in Green living only after nearly dying from asthma. Sara Snow holds degrees in theater performance and telecommunications from Butler University. Dave Holmes is an obscure actor; did the man even go to college? I can’t say. Note that Seventh Generation’s lines consist of products for babies, household cleaning, and the kitchen. The overlap between these product lines and the Green living answers pursued in “Big Green Lies” is too great to be coincidence.
Seventh Generation has attempted to exploit Green Backlash by filling a much needed gap for credible, unbiased, and scientifically sound messages about sustainable choices. For the millions of viewers seeking a well-packaged, clearly presented crib sheet on Green living, they probably succeeded. However, in the opinion of this engineer, the credibility of the program and the quasi-scientific methods they used are suspect. Without better experimental methods and qualified scientists to interpret results, “Big Green Lies” is itself a big green lie.