Why We Must Fight Greenwashing Not Toshiba, Google or Each Other
Back in the 20th century circa 1998, a jury of eight women and four men reached the verdict of not guilty in the defamation charge against Oprah Winfrey filed by members of the Beef Industry. In a show that aired in April of 1996, a segment about dangerous foods led to a discussion about an outbreak of Mad Cow disease in the United Kingdom that killed 10 people. Oprah vowed to never eat a hamburger again, and cattle prices plummeted resulting in a loss of over $11 million for the plaintiffs.
Oprah won the suit because she expressed her opinion, and in the United States that falls under free speech, one of our most respected and protected rights.
Companies that use “Go Green, Go Paperless” as a marketing message, value proposition, or call to action, either communicated as such, or implied through phrases such as “save trees,” are not expressing their opinion. They are making a claim and entering into an understood covenant with consumers to deliver on that promise. It’s a promise that they cannot keep.
Google Drive, and their partners who devised the marketing campaign for Go Paperless in 2013, have faced an onslaught of backlash in the socialsphere. Following in the wake of Toshiba’s failed National No Print Day, once again the call to action for consumers to reduce unnecessary/excessive desktop printing was soured with inaccuracy and greenwashing. The Go Paperlessin 2013 claim: “Save Time. Save Money. Save Trees.” and instead of paper, use their cloud and digital products and services.
Much has been written on this topic of late, (see “Why is the Print Industry Whining about #Paperless2013” for an explanation of the reaction to the Go Paperless 2013 campaign) but focusing on anything but the defamation of paper is hypocritical to me. The print and paper industries have an environmental footprint; the digital industry has an environmental footprint. Companies in our industries offer cloud and digital products and services; we use cloud and digital products and services. As a matter of fact, the print industry has spent the last two+ years incorporating print and digital to work together through QR codes and pURL’s for example, and championing that partnership even though the digitals promote themselves as being in, and us being out.