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The Greenwash Brigade

Teaching climate change or a Sharp sales technique?

Janne K. Flisrand Feb 3, 2009

(Photo credit: Jared Flesher, New York Times’ Green Inc. blog)

As a former teacher, this Green Inc. article caught my interest and raised a red flag. Sharp Electronics Corporation employees are volunteering to teach 5th graders lessons on climate change and renewable power.

Without a copy of the presentation, I won’t give a thumbs up or down. Instead, I’ll share my concerns. Flesher commented that “The renewable energy portion of the presentation mentions several technologies — including hydro, wind, and ocean power — but solar quickly becomes the focus.”

That’s not necessarily bad, depending on the larger context. A lesson focused on solar power is appropriate IF the class had already learned about conservation, AND there are classes dedicated to other renewable energy sources. As a stand-alone, it’s simply self-interested marketing.

I also wonder about the presence of Sharp’s logo and products. Was the logo on every slide? They did hand out prominently branded solar calculators and notebooks at the end of class. Would Sharp still sponsor the program and send out employees to teach if Sharp had to be invisible?

At the moment, the scale of the program in the US is small, but it may not remain that way. This press release (opens PDF) notes that the lesson has been presented to 37,000 children in Japan, “visiting 537 schools in 2007 alone.” If Sharp has plans for similar scale here, I hope principals and teachers think carefully about how they use this “free” resource before accepting the gift.

To acknowledge where credit may be due, the comment (#26) from Sharp employee Chris suggests the lesson highlights conservation, and if employees are volunteering unpaid time to give the lesson, maybe they’d still do it if the logo were hidden.

The cursory description of the lesson plan sounds carefully thought out. The image of the planet with a fever is easy for kids to relate to. I love the interactive bit of powering a 60 watt light bulb with hand cranks – but wonder whether they also tried powering a CFL. (My internal lesson planner suggests 1) hand crank 60 watt bulb, 2) hand crank CFL, 3) test how many 60 watt bulbs can be lit by solar power, 4) test how many CFLs can be lit by solar power.)

Besides hearing readers’ opinions, I request some reader expertise.

How does this lesson relate to the latest research on brand choice? Does research show that this sort of exposure as a child subconsciously create brand-committed adults? Or does it show it’s unrelated?

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