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The Greenwash Brigade

Get a grip: Audi’s controversial green police

Heidi Siegelbaum Feb 16, 2010

I must be the only environmentally active person in the United States who leans in the direction of actually liking the controversial Audi Super Bowl ad that promotes its new A3 TDI, Green Car of the Year according to green car pundits.

The traditional “green message” is vague, makes people feel guilty, and it violates the enabling principle: The overall greening message — regardless of source — tends to be punitive, unclear, and doesn’t link the future of our very derrieres to everyday purchasing and living decisions. These messages also routinely violate the essential enabling principle which is a gateway to human behavioral change.

There is ample room for improvement in messaging: use this product and your kid will develop a learning disability, autism and make your family sick. Use that product and the pollution costs in X amount will be passed onto you (don’t expect a label for that) in additional taxes, surcharges and municipal and state expenses: the polluting company (whose actions and products may very well be legal) wins, you lose. Spare the gray science and risk analysis for a more nuanced discussion on a website. If you want people to make different choices, be clear. Be sexy. No wonder people can’t make good choices; the explanations upfront are too complex.

Why we need a kick in the &##: Let’s face it; we are not terribly disciplined in many ways despite considerable chatter devoted to accountability, pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and the honor of living some righteous life (peruse Moral Politics and the strict father frame).

The U.S. is, without question, the most wasteful and inefficient industrial nation in the world and we seem to celebrate that in some obscene collective gesture where we somehow believe that inefficiency is good business. Nothing could be further from the truth. 94% of all material inputs into a product are lost in the manufacturing process; not recaptured, not reused. In the process, we are losing business opportunities every day to close this efficiency gap and create products/processes/communities that nurture rather than destroy.

This inefficiency also leads to public health disasters in the form of learning disabilities, reproductive disorders, cancers, contaminated drinking water, ruined (bankrupted) communities and a planetary trashing of the “resources” (most nondescript term ever coined) that enable us to live. This is why we need a good knock upside the head.

What we really need is correct and true pricing: in which all the impacts of designing, manufacturing, using and ditching the product are calculated, then incorporated into the product… baking all that dirt, disease, pollution and yuck into the SKU so the policing happens at checkout. If properly and honestly priced, a car would cost $200,000, a tank of regular gas, $250.

Humor works and yes, we should be doing all those smart things: (composting, using reusable bags,being smart about energy) We could use more humor in our lives as it’s a good way to get us to laugh at ourselves, uncover some inconsistencies in behavior and highlight why good green living is fun, smart, profitable, productive and just better for our overall health. I don’t think anyone would seriously advocate that we use a police state to enforce certain behaviors but when those collective behaviors stand to threaten our very survival, “pretty please with a cherry on top” may just not suffice.

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