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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    The false greening of corporate America

    Lauren Myers columnist
    Lauren Myers
    columnist

    Environmentalism is becoming an increasingly prominent part of American culture, and the nation’s business community has certainly taken note of the trend. In fact, a recent Bank of America advertisement demonstrates how the environmental movement is often co-opted by commercial interests.

    The clip shows a backpacker strolling through a sunlit forest, happily attending to his financial affairs on a cell phone. The announcer tells the viewer that we should also sign up for mobile banking, so not only can we manage our finances while romping through the great outdoors, but we also can “”leave a smaller footprint on the environment.”” This begs an obvious question, though: Is this for real?

    The idea that we can make a meaningful change in our environmental impact by banking on our cell phones is pretty ridiculous. There are plenty of reasons why a consumer might want this service – convenience and quick access comes to mind – but concern for the environment is not one of them.

    This commercial is not part of a genuine campaign for environmental sustainability. Rather, it is meant to indicate Bank of America’s corporate image as a benevolent, environmentally conscious organization.

    They’re hardly alone in playing this game. Across the nation, companies are waking up and smelling the green – that is, the money to be made from courting eco-conscious consumers.

    Examples abound of commercial interests trying to hitch their wagons to the rising star of environmentalism. For instance, a plethora of environmental catchphrases have sprung up on packaging and in advertisements. Terms like “”organic,”” “”all-natural,”” “”environmentally friendly”” and “”non-toxic”” are constantly batted around by advertisers aiming for the eco-conscious demographic. Unfortunately, these claims are not always presented in an honest manner.

    The perfect example of how eco-vocabulary can be misused is the oft-invoked phrase “”chemical-free.”” This is a ludicrous claim. Every substance in the universe is a chemical, including the water we drink, the oxygen we breathe and the compounds in the food we ingest. So what exactly are these “”chemical-free”” products made out of? Dragon breath and pixie dust?

    The point is, advertisers often use environmental terms in logically or scientifically unsound ways. Many of these terms are too vague to be useful and can be used misleadingly in advertisements. For instance, a product might be labeled “”environmentally friendly”” because its raw materials come from sustainable sources – even though its manufacturing process may spew pollutants into the atmosphere, or otherwise damage the environment.

    Misleading advertisements are all too abundant. You can still go to the store and pick up cans of household chemicals boasting “”no CFCs”” on their labels. This is presented as some sort of noble act of ozone layer defense, when in fact CFCs have been banned for years. Although advertisers may wish to depict their products as uniquely environmentally conscious, the fact is that no one makes household products containing CFCs anymore. Between these deceptive CFC claims, mobile banking pitches, “”organic”” cigarettes and homes labeled “”solar”” because they have a south-facing wall, what’s a consumer with an environmental conscience to do?

    Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to eco-conscious citizens who want to purchase products that are genuinely eco-friendly. Organizations like EcoLogo and Green Seal certify products that meet specific environmental standards and provide online information to the public. These third-party organizations only certify products that are environmentally friendly through each stage of manufacture.

    It bodes well for the planet that the environmental movement has begun to permeate mainstream culture. Its leaders will have to defend environmentalism’s principles against opportunists who measure “”green”” with dollar signs rather than healthy ecosystems, though. By being critical of advertising claims, consumers can make sure our money actually supports environmental causes – and not the corporate vultures circling for a quick buck.

    Lauren Myers is a sophomore majoring in microbiology and
    math. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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