The Greenwash Brigade

Taking the temperature on Olympics greenwash

Dennis Markatos Aug 19, 2008

This Olympics has been a special one. The accomplishments of Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, Yang Wei & co. show us all what the human body can do when dedicated focus and positive spirit are applied. Great examples of sportsmanship have shone in Shawn Johnson’s support for her roommate, friend and competitor Nastia Liukin for the all-around gymnastics gold medal. The USA “Redeem Team” basketball players show respect for their opponents even as they win by huge margins. And a crucial theme emphasized at the opening ceremony in Beijing was stewardship of our natural world.

Advertisements — a cultural thermometer — have been encouraging to me too. Many ads from GE and others are emphasizing environmental responsibility. Obama’s key ad in the first week focused on the potential of US manufacturers to solve the current energy price escalation by ushering in the next generation of efficiency and renewable technology. Automobile ads from Chevy and VW concentrate on fuel economy — perhaps the single most important advance for American transportation in the years ahead.

There are still silly ads pretending McCain will “take on big oil” even though a centerpiece of his energy policy is opening up more areas offshore and elsewhere to oil producers. But the most encouraging development to me was from Yao Ming. China’s top basketball star made his billion-plus fans proud by helping his team to the medal round, and became the first “UN Environmental Champion.” I believe such star endorsements are critical to help catalyze cultural change. With China recently becoming the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, it’s important for our Earth that environmental values help steer the nation’s pollution levels from quick growth to stabilization and then reduction.

The constant question on this forum is whether talking the talk will translate into walking the walk. I’m inspired by the cultural shifts occurring, as they’re a prerequisite for positive action by the public and private sector leaders in the position to face the environmental challenges of our generation.

Now is the time for us to hold companies and politicians to their word. What ideas do you have to hold them accountable?

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