Recently on a flight, I was reading the Continental Airlines magazine’s Green Edition. I do believe Continental to be one of the greener airlines because of its efforts in biofuels (jathropa links), as well as some of the measures taken, which are outlined in some of the articles (wing tips saving fuel, meal packaging, etc). However, I did see quite a bit of greenwashing, as well as messaging that I believe is harmful to green causes.
In more than one place in the green edition, resorts, restaurants, and other things were referred to as “tree hugging.” I have the same complaint about TreeHugger.com, which I believe to be the best gree site on the web (if you think something is better, please post it in the comments, I’d like to read it too). The problem with “tree hugging” and that concept was that it was used as a derrogatory term for so long. The baby boomer generation, which is has been one of the most wasteful in history (references), interprets a tree hugger as a “dirty hippie.”
By using “tree hugger” in articles targeted to the masses, the authors alienate the readers. Usage of the phrase immediately dissociates the reader because the message to the reader becomes something <i>they</i> are doing, not something <i>you</i> should be doing. What makes the problem worse in the case of Continental is their default audience. Continental’s hubs are in Newark (major New York City entry point), Houston (worst air quality and high energy sector concentration), and Cleveland (midwest rust belt and coal consumers). While hubs are often just layovers for a lot of consumers, many professionals try to take direct flights, and when the end points are locations with industries and demographics unfriendly to the green movement, any messaging that causes the readers to further dissociate themselves is counterproductive.
What really makes this bad is the fact that baby boomers are currently in power, in both industry and politics. Advocating green policies and practices to this demographic is difficult enough, and starting off by putting a negative image in the mind of decision makers is a bad idea.
With the target audience for sites like TreeHugger.com, the readers are already convinced of the merits of the green movement. What we need to do is convince the ones that are actually making the decisions that can change both policy and industry investment. The image needed to change minds is one of wise investment and the long term payoff. Green for the sake of green alone will not convince those that have not already drank the kool-aid.