Marketing ploys commodify ‘green’ technology for profit

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With today’s increased social and political pressures guiding our patterns of consumption, we’re often inundated with contradictions in the marketing of products — marketing contradictions that mimic the contradictions we perpetuate by aiming to define ourselves as individuals by consuming mass-produced items.

Commercials celebrate “green” printer inks, low-carb muffins, and organic scented lotions. While these examples of such contradictions are often harmless and may even lead to eventual change for the better, the “how to go green” trend becomes dangerous when truly non-green, perilously eco-unfriendly products are allowed to market themselves as safe for the environment. This is what is happening as coal used for energy in Pennsylvania is marketing new coal-burning processes as “clean energy solutions” — though in reality the processes may still release greenhouse gases and water pollutants in our own state.

Green (read: slightly reformed) technologies manifest themselves in such far-fetched products as organic scented lotions and recycled gold earrings. describes the latter in its section on green products: “These delicate Gingkos have an earthy feel perfect for both summer’s sundresses and fall’s cozy knits.” As much as wearing these stylish jewels might satisfy the In Style reader searching for his or her own way to contribute to the trendy fight against global warming, an “earthy feel” won’t do much to save polar bears. What should be celebrated, though, is the fact that the gold used in the earrings is recycled — and any step toward reducing our global footprint is a good one. Unfortunately, this is not the aspect of the product that is highlighted by as that which makes it a must-have item. Nonetheless, if this is how a particular audience is going to understand respecting the environment, then it is all well and good.

It’s easy to dismiss these products’ marketing contradictions as harmless, which, as in the previous case, they are. But masking the truly damaging characteristics of a product is not okay — and should be stopped — when those characteristics are damaging the environment, and the companies producing the goods are slipping under the “go green” trend’s radar.

VUTEk’s Bio-Solvent Inks, for example, “are the next generation of environmentally friendly inks made with a renewable resource — corn.” As this is close to the only data on the company’s website that details — or rather, loosely covers — what makes these inks supposedly environmentally friendly, it seems clear that the company is substantially more interested in creating this allegedly green product to draw in more business (for both the “environmentally friendly” inks and their not-so-friendly counterparts) than to really benefit the environment. However, any step toward reducing the effects of global warming is better than nothing — unless a product is really not eco-friendly but is being disguised as such to increase a company’s revenue. Besides the fact that the wording is carefully constructed as to say that corn is an ingredient — among what else? How eco-friendly can ink really be?

The company’s website also emphasized that the ink is “recognized” by the FDA, and seems to use this fact to plug their product as wholly environmentally friendly. It seems like once the FDA or USDA or WTF-A approves, we can all breathe a sigh of relief and believe that somehow, in some way, we’re reducing our ecological impact on the earth. But the regulations that are met to receive such seals of approval are not necessarily the be-all-and-end-all of standards set for eco-friendly lifestyles. There is more to do, and using printer solvent ink that is “recognized” by the EPA is not, by any means, enough to reduce our impact on the earth and attempt to reverse the effects of global warming. Living eco-friendly is not just about slowing down or even stopping our current trends of global warming, but rather, to attempt to reverse the incredible damage we’ve already done.

The most perilous and note-worthy marketing contradiction of them all, though, is the “clean coal” power plants (Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle, or IGCC). I hope that the irony of this idea is extraordinarily obvious. First of all, using coal for energy is innately non-clean, and should in no way be allowed to disguise itself as any sort of green technology. Moreover, when such a product labels itself as eco-friendly by adopting the “go green” trend (like a set of recycled gold earrings or organic cotton area rugs), it assumes the power to get away with more horribly damaging ecological practices. IGCC plants are supposedly able to “capture” carbon dioxide, the damaging chemical emitted from plants, by reducing plant efficiency and increasing water use. Producing contaminated water and a buildup of carbon dioxide — the process for which may not even work, according to — are hardly green practices. As Energy Justice’s research suggests, “IGCC is being promoted as ‘clean’ coal, but there’s nothing clean about coal, whether you burn it as a solid or if you gasify it, or liquefy it first.”

I don’t need to inundate you with the figures you have undoubtedly heard, especially on this campus that is at least more ecologically minded than others. There is an urgent need for us to do something. If taking small steps in organic body lotions and leaf-shaped recycled gold earrings is the best we can do, then we must keep doing it and hope that it snowballs into something more powerful and society-changing. But processes that are extremely dangerous and damaging to the environment should not be able to disguise themselves as reformed and eco-friendly under the marketing trend of “going green” and respecting the environment. Reversing the effects of global warming is not a trend, and it should not be exploited as a consumerist marketing plot.