Pot Pourri 12/6/2008

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I missed a week while I was away celebrating Thanksgiving with my family. With Christmas getting nearer, the drumbeat of offers for greener gadgets has gotten louder. As I have said many times, it is almost always better to buy a greener alternative whenever you have decided to buy something. Almost always because it is still very difficult to determine what green or environmentally friendly really means. Any of these and other related labels invariably involves trade-offs between green gas emissions, toxics, recyclability and so on. But remember, the only real choice for sustainability is to leave the item on the shelf.

Another linguistic game

The Washington Post reports on a new initiative by a coalition of environmental group to correct the impression of another green label, “clean coal.”

The phrase “clean coal” was repeated by virtually every major presidential candidate this year. Now the battle over what it means is heating up… . A group of environmental organizations concerned about global warming, including one backed by former vice president Al Gore, is launching an advertising campaign this week to counter the coal industry’s efforts to promote what it calls “clean coal.” … The groups will spend millions of dollars on television, newspaper and outdoor ads, the first of which shows a factory door in the middle of a barren landscape and the slogan: “In reality, there is no such thing as ‘clean coal.’ ”

The Mess in Detroit (1)

The news this week has been full of suggestions about what to do with the failing US automobile industry. Gifford Pinchot, founder of the Bainbridge Graduate Institute, one of a handful of schools offering a genuine MBA in sustainability, suggests turning the industry towards making windmills, recalling the last time the industry was converted to answering a national crisis.

In World War II the American auto industry switched rapidly from producing cars to producing planes, tanks and other weapons. To bail out the car companies today, rather than handouts or loans they cannot repay, give them massive federal orders for windmills. The windmills can be erected on government land producing energy that will be sold to repay the debt used to acquire them.

The Mess in Detroit (2)

GreenBiz chimes in with their plan.

* Short-term, craft a disciplined loan program for Detroit, or a program of preferred equity injections (also a form of debt). The loans should be structured with performance conditions (to ensure accountability in exchange for financial relief) and could be structured with equity kickers, to preserve some ownership rights for the taxpayers. * Peg financial assistance to the achievement of environmentally desirable milestones, including fuel efficiency improvements. * Consider targeted tax incentives for Detroit’s creation of U.S.-based jobs, and consider extending similar incentives to other employers. After all, the end-game is to improve employment and purchasing power by American families. * Give Detroit federal contracts for research on energy-efficient vehicles and for the development of green mass transit capabilities. The government had Detroit producing tanks and other military vehicles in World War II — why not turn idle capacity to a desirable public end? There is growing demand for green cars, trucks and mass transit — now is the time for government to prime the pump.

Guilt Trip Avoidance

This headline caught my eye, “New Company Helps Golf Courses Become Sustainable” Again, simply labeling something as sustainable may sound good and make those who purchase it or use it feel better, but in its conventional usage will rarely, if ever, produce sustainability.

Golf courses: centers of work, play, and…carbon sequestration? Golf courses covered in turfgrass sequester carbon more quickly than any other urban landscape, and one enterprising company wants to take advantage of that fact… . The Golfpreserves project plans to package sequestered carbon from golf courses participating in their program and sell the resulting carbon credits… . Revenue from credit sales will go back into greening the golf industry through environmentally improved turfgrass, irrigation, and pesticide use.

In addition to making golf more sustainable, the Golfpreserves program could also make the game more attractive to consumers. According to a recent Golf Digest survey, over half of the United States population believes greener golf courses would improve the industry’s image.

Golf is one of the most visible signs of unsustainable economic mal-distribution on Earth, in addition to its highly polluting, water-intensive, unproductive, land use. C’mon.

Events Not Worth Holding One’s Breath For

Calling all designers, inventors, and green gadget geeks!

The 2009 Greener Gadgets Conference is shaping up to be an incredible event, and we’re excited to announce the details of next year’s Greener Gadgets Design Competition! Hosted by Core77 and Inhabitat, the Greener Gadgets Design Competition will award $5000 of cash prizes to extraordinary designs for green gadgets that offer innovative solutions to the issues of energy, materials, product lifecycle, recycling, and social development. Designers are encouraged to consider their design’s product ecosystem, and may focus upon a particular context, material, device, or area of human enterprise. Want to enter? (You know you do..)

How about a contest to design a non-gadget that would provide satisfaction and wake us up to why we would want what it is supposed to produce in the first place? Sustainability is all about being, caring, and relationships. Commodified goods keep us locked in the having mode of existence and keep sustainability at arms length.

How to Empty Sustainability of Any Meaning

Another headline caught my eye this week, “Tweeting Green - Why And How Eco Businesses Should Be On Twitter.” The gist of the item is that any company, worth its salt, better jump into the rapidly growing world of social network technology lest they get left in the competitive dust. What is missing is that of all the social networking software, Tweeter forces one toward expression in tiny, tiny media bites. But this is just what marketers seem to find powerful for there clients. Here’s the tale that marketing consultant, Wayne Kurtzman from Media Bullsey, spins.

Besides Twitter, there are of course a whole host of ways to reach out to your customers and engage them on a one-to-one basis. There is Facebook and Myspace as well as a fast growing selection of newer sites. There are blogs and blogger networks, as well as, shopping social networking sites. There are community forums for a variety of topics and there are media sharing sites like Flickr and Youtube… . All of these should be considered for a social media campaign, but not all should be used. Why? This depends a lot on the company and product… .

One thing on which we all agree, though is Twitter. Though less than 2 years old, Twitter is rapidly becoming the go to place for both questions and answers. Have a question on organic food? Direct message @WholeFoods, an early and excellent user of social media. Follow Seventh Generation and find updates answers on a variety of green topics.

At minimum, being on Twitter and following Tweople, (Twitter users) interested in green products, keeps you up to date on your customers interests, like an on-going focus group of sorts. It keeps you aware of when trouble is brewing and it gives you a way to communicate sales, promos and new products to your consumers.

Developing and maintaining the right Twitter presence for your company isn’t always easy, but it is easy to get started. The green Twittersphere is large and growing. Green media, green consumers and green companies are rapidly becoming a force on this social media site. Take some time to do it right though. Sign up with Twitter.

Twitter is the essence of simplification. here’s what Twitter says about itself.

Simplicity has played an important role in Twitter’s success. People are eager to connect with other people and Twitter makes that simple. Twitter asks one question, “What are you doing?” Answers must be under 140 characters in length and can be sent via mobile texting, instant message, or the web.

Sustainability or its environmental dimension loses its meaning if you compress what you are doing or thinking about it into 140 characters. That is exactly the length of this last sentence. Smart marketing like that being touted here sends exactly the opposite message about sustainability than one that is necessary. It takes much more than superficially buying green. It takes awareness of one’s role in creating the mess, and one’s responsibility in taking care of it. I defy any smart marketer to put anything like this into 140 characters.

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1 Comments

Jeff Wendel said:

John,

"Golf is one of the most visible signs of unsustainable economic mal-distribution on Earth, in addition to its highly polluting, water-intensive, unproductive, land use"

Golf has survived for hundreds of years on Earth. Those of us who actually understand organic chemistry realize that turfgrass is an excellent system to reduce 'heat island' in communities, and to filter dust and pollutants. Where do you get your facts regarding highly polluting and water-intensive?

As for 'productive' land use, our game provides a surface that reduces 'heat island' in communities, provides recreational green space and provides many more jobs than you obviously imagine. Our 'game' also provides excellent habitat that is otherwise lost in many communities, we support diversity of flora and fauna that is not seen in many other parts of a community. We have several municipal courses in Iowa that have existed on the same ground for more than 100 years.

We also treasure the game for the love of a physical endeavor that requires us to understand ourselves and our strenghts and weaknesses. Golf teaches character to those who learn and understand the true meaning. The 'guilt' should be on you for riding such a high horse with no real facts. JRW