Going Green – Legitimate Effort, Marketing Hoax, or Something More Sinister?

Everyone it seems is obsessed with Going Green. Is it legitimate? If you?re old enough you might remember those energy commercials where the narrator described some massive energy generation project?years in the works and costing billions?that would provide ?barely enough energy to keep the lights on in North Nowhere, Kansas?population 309?for one hour?. No REAL progress on reducing the country?s dependence on foreign oil, but that company is hard at work on it!

Did you ever get the impression that those energy commercials were more about improving the energy company?s public image than on reducing the country?s dependence on foreign oil? Or on a darker note, that what they were really trying to do was educate us that there were no solutions to the nations energy problems, and we needed to get comfortable with business as usual? (History has proven the legitimacy of that last point!)

That?s precisely the way I feel about the current Going Green obsession.

Going Green?Legitimate Effort, Marketing Hoax, or Something More Sinister?
Going Green?Legitimate Effort, Marketing Hoax, or Something More Sinister?

Everyone it seems, is going green and ?cleaning up? the environment. But is that what they?re really doing?or like the energy companies of yesteryear?are they mostly just trying to get us to think better about them?

And?if I may add on a more sinister note?are they claiming to go green as a cover for either charging us more for what they’re selling, or by shifting expenses over to us, their loyal customers?

How Going Green May Not Be Helping Us – Or Worse…

Here are a few examples of where I think that may be happening, and I?ll bet you can come up with a few more…

?Paperless? or Print Online

What this really means is that if you want a paper copy of your monthly statement?or of any document?the company is shifting the printing cost over to you. And in the process, they?re also saving on postage.

Eco-friendly? Maybe. A financial win for the company? Most definitely.

Paper cups made from ?30% recycled paper?

The minority portion that?s recycled is the marketing hook. It makes it look as if the company is environmentally-friendly. But the fact is that no matter what the cup is composed of, it still has to be processed, and that takes resources?to say nothing of the 70% of the cup that isn?t recycled.

Ceramic cups would be more environmentally friendly (can be reused, no ongoing manufacturing processing, no waste for landfills), but they would have to be cleared and washed, requiring labor?and that costs business money. By shifting to paper cups, all that labor?and the cost to pay for it?disappears.

Eco-friendly? Could actually be a negative. A financial win for the company? Absolutely.

Cheap Single-ply, Recycled Bathroom Tissue

I know, polite people shouldn?t discuss this in public, but someone has to say something about it. The poor quality of it no doubt saves companies money on an equivalent amount of conventional paper. But since it?s such poor quality you have to use at least twice as much.

Eco-friendly? Doubtful. A financial win for the company? At least a little.

Automatic Hand Dryers – What Does This Even Have to do With Going Green?

This one?s a bit complicated. Sure, no paper towels means a) no trees were cut down and b) no additional waste for landfills. But automatic hand dryers are powered by electricity, and from the sound and feel of it, I?d guess it takes quite a bit to keep them blowing. And what does it take to generate electricity? Coal, oil, natural gas. It sounds a lot like trading trees and landfills for fossil fuels and acid rain.

The benefit to business? No staff needed to refill paper towel dispensers or to empty the trash, which means lower labor costs. And I?m speculating the added electric costs to power the hand dryers is probably less than the monthly cost of paper towels to stock the restrooms.

But back to paper usage for a moment?drying our hands isn?t the only reason we might use paper towels. And what do we do when one or more of the hand dryers doesn?t work, or when an under-powered dryer doesn?t quite get the job done? We go into the bathroom stalls and pull out the cheap, single-ply, recycled bath tissue?and a whole bunch of it because it really doesn?t work either, right?

Eco-friendly? I seriously doubt it. A financial win for the company? Almost certainly.

Hybrid cars

Is the hybrid car?running alternatively on both electricity and gasoline?little more than an attempt to get a new technology out into the market before it?s ready? I can?t escape that feeling.

The electricity being used to power a hybrid car is highly likely to be generated by fossil fuels, especially coal. Add to that the fact that the hybrid still uses some gasoline! Meanwhile the environmental impact from manufacturing the car isn?t much different from what it would be to produce a gas powered car.

This example is a bit dated, but it makes the point. The hybrid 2011 Toyota Prius had a base price of about $29,000, and gets about 42 miles per gallon. A gas powered 2011 Hyundai Elantra listed at a base price of about $21,000, and gets about 40 miles per gallon. The cars aren?t 100% comparable, but it seems that the fuel efficiency of the hybrid is more than a little overblown.

The environmental impact of a hybrid may be only slightly less than that of a gas powered car, but is that advantage worth paying an extra $8,000 for? I?m not convinced.

Eco-friendly? It?s heading in the right direction, but it?s not there yet. A financial win for the company?

Absolutely, and we?re talking big dollars here!

What do you think?

Does a store painted green – or at least generously appointed with green highlights – make you go warm and fuzzy on the place? Are you more likely to buy what they?re selling? (Strong hint?) Are you willing to pay more for what they?re selling because they?ve ?gone green?? (Another ginormous hint?)

Is ?Going Green? a legitimate movement or a marketing hoax? Or is it an attempt to shift costs from the company to the consumer, or to make us pay more for what we?re buying? Do you have other examples of where the practice looks suspicious?

Or am I the only one who?s thought about this???

( Photo by foldablebags.com )

18 Responses to Going Green – Legitimate Effort, Marketing Hoax, or Something More Sinister?

  1. I have given some thought to it. I believe that if we (At a consumer level) were truly to go green, a lot of the companies who claim to be doing such would disappear. Going green is going to involve using a lot less resources on a personal level and also working to make purchases and financial decisions that are in line with that. Companies will generally only do something if it is in their own best interest.

    The array of re-usable bags for $1 at the check outs at most store is one example. I have yet to see large crowds of shoppers at the grocery store walking around with these, but I have gotten numerous funny looks when i show up with 5-8 mismatched shopping bags i have collected from various fairs, vendors and job fairs, and use a carabiner to clip them to the shopping cart.

    Online Bill pay is something that does work out to some extent. The company doing it wins big, but I the consumer win as well. I no longer need to pay for a stamp or an envelope to mail the bill in, nor do i need to make it a habit to keep either of these in stock at my home or to get to the post office box on time. A simple click and the bill is paid. Printing for record keeping may be a cost, but i can just as easily save the confirmation web page on the computer. After all, storage space is incredibly inexpensive anymore, even with a portable hard drive for back up.

    On the subject of automobiles especially, I have some thoughts. I like your comparison on the Prius vs. Elantra. However, we can take it a bit further. I currently own and drive a 2004 Hyundai Elantra. I have been driving it for around 6 years and have driven over 150k on it. I have done a great deal of maintenance myself on it, and contracted out to garages for the ore difficult tasks. If something goes majorly wrong with the engine or transmission, the tab to replace both of them with lower mileage used components would be about $2000 (At least, based on my local garage and local used part suppliers. Your estimates may vary).

    2011 Prius $29000
    2011 Elantra $21000
    2004 Elantra $2000 for repairs or replacement of key components (If and when something breaks). Rental car for the week while awaiting repairs could tack on an extra $300 or so.

    The 04 might get marginally less gas mileage, but the vehicle makes up for it by avoiding the environmental cost of manufacturing and shipping an entire new vehicle. In addition, the extra monthly cash flow I get to save on insurance and car payment gets to be put into either savings or investments, allowing me to use that money for other purposes. Regularly required maintenance will be roughly the same as with a newer vehicle.

    Ultimately, some of the green marketing is only trying to make the company look better. Some of it really is helpful and environmentally friendly. The big question about any “Going green” item is the question “Who benefits more? Me or the company I am buying from?”

    Just some thoughts.

  2. Hi Jared – You’re getting to a point that I touched on only lightly in the post, and that’s production impact. If we ditch a gas powered car for a hybrid, we’re creating demand for a newly manufactured car and all of the environmental impact that brings. Going green really starts and probably ends with us. If we’re really serious about the environment then we need to use less of everything, and keep what we have longer. Switching to more environmentally friendly goods still creates demand for new production and none of that’s good for the environment.

    It seems conterintuitive, for example, that the best thing you can do for the environment might be to keep your older, but still fuel efficient car, rather than buying a hybrid. The hybrid still requires resouces to construct (iron ore, oil based chemicals, etc) as well as the energy needed to produce it, and results in an older vehicle being dumped in a landfill. As good as the intention to buy the hybrid may be, the environmental impact is far more negative than we believe.

    Good catch on paperless/pay on line. It is the one in the group that comes closest to a win-win. But it does seem that the company wins bigger in the exchange. After all, while I can store statements/documents on my computer, any time I need a copy, I’m the one paying for the paper and ink.

    Thanks for the astute comments!

  3. Here in Jerusalem green is very serious. we have separate trash cans for plastic paper and a third for everything else and people cooperate, and companies are doing their part too.

  4. I think the future hold some great potential. First, battery technology needs improvement. Combine that with a cost drop in photovoltaic cells, by a factor of 3-5 from where we are now. The pure electric car has a place in people’s lives. If the energy cost per mile were virtually free, the savings would be huge, and the air much cleaner.
    Keep in mind, most people don’t need a car that has a capacity over 250 miles between charges. It’s a rare day that I’d ever exceed that, and if I did, I could borrow my wife’s car and let her use mine.

  5. Hi Joe, I completely agree that electric vehicles are a step in the right direction from a technological standpoint, and that in a few years they might be the solution to our energy, environmental and even financial problems. The near term is dicey though, and I think the hybrids might be a high cost play that doesn’t add any real value to the users life or to improve the environment.

    Good point about 250 miles between charges. Most people don’t use their cars more than 50 or so miles in any given day so they won’t get close. From what I’m reading, 100 miles is the upper limit on pure electric cars, but apparently that gets degraded over time. I think we’re heading in the right direction. But from a monetary standpoint, you never want to be one of the first ones into a new technology.

  6. I think there are some valid reasons to go green, but I am concerned about the “scams” that are increasing each day. It is like the folks who are suppose to monitor “scams” are not and every day, someone gets taken advantage of. Something needs to be done like yesterday.

    My Website: Surviving Unemployment

  7. Hi Angela, That’s a lot of the problem–everyone’s “going green” as if that creates some virtue to doing business with them. And I agree, some of what’s going on are outright scams. We can’t drop our guard and assume every declared environmental effort is holy and worthy of us putting our money into, whether as customers or even charitable causes, otherwise we can set ourselves up to be taken.

  8. Hi Kevin, it was while I was looking into getting into that line of work when I got laid off in 2008 that I became aware of how many “scams” are out there for this area. I think it would be a good career path along with solar energy – but again, I have not been able to get the training without paying an arm & a leg (lol). It is like folks know you are not working, but they still want those 100s. I am disappointed that Obama has not tapped into this area as far as getting folks RETRAINED and back to work.

    My Website: Surviving Unemployment

  9. Hi, Kevin — “Going green” in concept is a great idea, but you’re right that a lot of what’s going on out there seems to be either legitimately deceitful or just misguided.

    Consider having a huge concert for a cause like promoting environmental awareness. Then, think about the impact of all the people who drive to attend the concert, the power needed to run the concert, the disposable food/beverage containers used at the concert, and the millions of dollars used to promote the concert. What happens to any profit gained from this? Is there message of environmental awareness actually going home with the concert-goers, or are they just there to see a concert?

    Also, if you look at things like the paper cup example. We tend to consume more than we need, acquire more than we need, and dispose of something before its out of use. Even technology feels obsolete as soon as you buy it!

  10. Chris–You’re getting to the root of the post! I think what’s happening is that a “green” label is being placed on money making schemes. It seems to add some sort of legitimacy to the money making because well intentioned people want to believe they can make a difference. But it’s really the same old, same old, make money but witha different marketing scheme.

  11. I haven’t really given this much thought but as I read your post, I too have to wonder how much of a company’s claim for going green is for real or just a marketing ploy. I would have to agree that the majority of the claims out there are marketing ploys.

  12. Jackson – Or at a minimum they’re overblown. A company might “go green” with two or three very visible aspects of their business, but exaggerate the positive affects. I think that most of us are so conditioned by marketing spin that we often believe their claims without critical thought.

  13. First off great post Kevin, I would have never thought going green the way you did. Personally, I think going green is a very loose term at best. Do I think some of these things like running hybrid cars or using 2 ply toilet paper could help the environment, maybe.

    In the end I feel when we see a green energy sticker on our appliances or something says environmental friendly on it, it’s suppose to make a feel better like we’re doing are part so save the environment, but in the end I agree with you when you say it’s mostly a marketing scheme.

  14. Thanks Chris! I like to take positions on topics that are counter to the mainstream. I maybe should have called the site “Out of the Box” but thought Out of Your Rut was closer to where I wanted to go.

    Logically, no matter how good something is, no for-profit business is going to embrace it unless it will in some way improve the bottom. Higher prices is one way to do it, marketing spin is another.

  15. Yeah, like with the low flush toilets, and you have to flush 2-3 times to get everything to go down. And some of the light bulbs that are lower wattage and you have to have a couple of lamps on so you can see to read.

  16. Hi Kathy – YES! Those low flush toilets, I hadn’t even thought about them. But you’re right, no water is saved when you have to flush them three times. We have the eco lights (or what ever they’re called) installed throughout our house and they’re just…weird! They’re dimmer than conventional bulbs so you need two or three at a time. Then they take a few minutes to get to full strength. We had to replace one a few weeks ago, and the replacement bulb was over $8. What happened to the days when a light bulb could be had for under a dollar? It makes me think that this is another example of where going green is mostly about raising prices and increasing profit margins.

    That said, we do have an energy efficient furnace. And I mean energy efficient. Here we are living in New Hampshire, and our gas bills run about $25 a month. I thought that was an error, but a plumber looked at the unit and said it’s accurate because the furnace is 90-95% efficient. That one made a believer out of me. Now if the furnace cost $20,000, I’d be more skeptical, but it came with the house so we’re not complaining.

  17. Going green is on everyone’s mind these days because its one way we could help our planet to reduce emissions released into the Earth?s atmosphere, it also saves us money, but the real focus was to . Reduce our carbon footprint to make makes our planet healthier.

  18. Hi Ethel – I get the theory, but I’m not convinced that it isn’t a narrative that’s being exploited for financial gain. Sure, consumers think they’re doing something good, but I don’t think that’s how it plays out in reality.

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