Abusing Green and Using You

By:  Aubrey Towner

    "Green."   What do you think of when you hear this word?  Conservative Americans trying to help the earth?  People who are willing to bend over backwards to save the natural world?  People who will sacrifice their own desires in order to save the land and animals?  If this is what you think of when you hear the term "green," you are perfectly correct.  To be "green," gives an environmentally protective, conservative, and unselfish appearance, and isn't that what most corporations, organizations and Americans want?  Calling oneself green may give that particular business or organization that desired reputation.  Presenting oneself as caring about the environment could conveniently bring themselves customers, sales, a tax break, a good name, and most of all money. 

      Is it easier to appear green, in the interest of oneself, than to actually be green in the interest of the environment?  It's your right and possibly in your best interest to question and analyze anyone, whether it be a company or an individual, who may possibly be using environmental protection issues to get your business or attention. 

     Unrightfully using "green" ideas to describe one's environmentally protective activities is extremely unjust if the business or organization is using it to benefit themselves or their profit.  Using the environment to increase one's sales, money, or ego is an act of selfishness and is the exact opposite of what one is appearing to be. 

     The great world of business can be extremely deceiving for reasons like "the unjust use of green."  There are a rare few who are really willing to exercise extra work, spend extra money, and accept fewer privileges in order to protect the environment.  Take for example, companies like Intel Corporation, a computer chip corporation in Arizona.  This company has promised to soon cut more than half of the company's air pollution and recycle 95 percent of the company's waste water (Carol Browner).  Assuming that this promise is successfully carried out, they will obviously have to spend extra money and time to accomplish these goals.  For companies like these, I have the utmost respect.  To many however, it seems to be only about money.

     Most Americans see the importance of protecting the environment;  therefore, we are attracted to any company which leads us to believe it will help the environment with the help of our business.  This is where you have to evaluate whether or not they want to appear green, or whether they are green.  Do they just want your money, or do they really care about the environment?  Companies can do the smallest thing, such as eliminate a small portion of waste from their product of facility, use the word "nature" in their advertising, or compare their product to others, and swear they are the newest environmental protection agency.  Customers are now attracted, therefore spending money, and buying into a "painted green" company.  Take, for instance, Toyota.  Toyota advertises in People Weekly (Toyota Automobile Company), "we are spending billions to reduce the impact our vehicles will have on the environment.  We are building a greener Toyota."  Are they really spending billions?  Is the product now built greener, or do they have greener advertisements?  Have you driven a Ford lately?  The Ford automobile company claims in Better Homes and Gardens (Ford Automible company), that their 1990 mini van "handles the road like it handles mother nature."  What does this mean?  How does a mini van handle mother nature?  Your guess is as good as mine.  The words "mother nature" in this ad give a feeling of safety, and unharmfulness to nature.  You automatically feel that perhaps this automobile, or the Ford company, is environmentally oriented in some way.  In all reality however, of all the companies to lure you in by use of the environment, companies who produce products that contribute to a large portion of global pollution...automobile companies?

     Aside from using the environment to obtain customers and sales, companies have the right to pay fewer taxes if they demonstrate acts of helping the environment.  This is a reward and a motivator;  however the question in some cases is which is their main goal, helping their environment or helping their budget?  Referring back to ways to appear green, it seems quite simple to get a tax break if all they have to do is compare themselves to another company which may be polluting more.

     In the past there have been strict laws and regulations controlling industry and business, to help with the environment.  This has made industries feel smothered and turned off from wanting to help the environment.  Recently, due to the complaining of industry, our government has put an end to this feeling of being smothered.  Carol Browner, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, relates in her speech delivered at a Democratic National Committee Workshop, that businesses need freedom and flexibility.  They are more willing to make voluntary acts of environmental protection in exchange for more flexibility.  They are more willing to make voluntary acts of environmental protection in exchange for more flexibility on environmental requirements.  May I reword this?  They do not want anyone to be harping down their throat, so they will have more opportunity to be less cautious and more careless.

     I know, as a teenager, at the time of a situation such as cleaning my room or doing simple chores, I find myself telling my mother "to go away," "quit yelling at me, I can do it by myself."  It is human nature to want to feel independent, and able to work on your own;  however, time and time again I find that I actually don't get the work done as sufficiently and as quickly as I may have if my mother had been overseeing me.  Whether I recognize it or not, usually not wanting my mother's guidance was not a yearning for independence, but a feeling of not actually wanting to do the work, or at least not the way she wanted it done.  I, as many humans do, in this case businesses, wanted to do as little as possible, just enough to say "I did it."  Is that what we want to allow industry and business to do?  Should we allow them to decide using their own opinion whether or not they should take responsibility in protecting the environment?  Like it or not, we have given them much more freeedom than I am comfortable with.  Wasn't it their fault, when they were allowed freedom in the beginning, that they destroyed the environment, and put us where we are today?  We were able to step in and help things by setting rules before it was too late, but now they once again have freedom, only this time they have the freedom to disguise themselves as "green."

     Perhaps they should say more honestly, they are more willing to advertize "green," than actually be "green," in exchange for more flexibility.  The next time you are reading an ad, like the Ford or Toyota ad, thinking of buying into their "environmental" concerns, ask yourslef if they are "green," or is their ad "green?"

     I stress to all people the importance of questioning and analyzing companies, industries and businesses that may advertise themselves as environmentally concerned and protective.  You may very well be spending your money to support these very kind of industries.  It is essential to know how honest or dishonest companies are.  After all, they are one of the number one causes of environmental problems, and they are supported by you, every time you believe an advertisement for environmental protection.


Better Homes and Gardens.  Ford Automobile Company.  November, 1990. pp. 3.

People Weekly.  Toyota Automobile Company.  October, 1998.  pp. 22.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:  Speeches from the Administrator.  Carol Browner.  09-10-98.  http://epainotes1.rtpnc.epa.gov:777...66c75d8525667b00725fa?

Top of Page / SUI Home / Contest Winners List
Prepared by Kim Buchanan.
Document URL:   http://www.sc.edu/sustainableu/towner.htm

This page copyright  © 2006, The Board of Trustees of the University of South Carolina.