Red, White, and Blue—But Not So Green
While leaders in Europe, India, and other parts of the world are genuinely concerned about energy flows, waste, and social issues as they relate to the manufacture of products, do the vast majority of American consumers really care about iPad factory worker’s rights in China or how much energy the search-engine servers in massive data centers consume? (Energy consumption in these facilities amounts to an astonishing 1.5 to two percent of global energy demand (three percent in the US) and is growing some 12 percent per year, according to Greenpeace.) Yet in the US, since the economic collapse in 2007, surveys show that the vast majority of Americans really could care less about the environment: “They [now] are apathetic about sustainability,” Carli pointed out at GRAPH EXPO’s Executive Outlook Conference last September. “Most people in the US think there’s a big over-reaction to the environment.”
Carli pointed to the “raft of [US] political candidates who don’t believe that climate change exists.” Citing the televised presidential debates as a prime example, he wondered if most Americans even are aware of the subliminal advertising sponsorships. “‘Clean coal’ and natural gas – the latter of which now is a relatively inexpensive energy source—are spending hundreds of millions of dollars” to get their pro-fossil fuel messages heard and seen, he said.
Many print firms seem oblivious, too, or at least indifferent. At GRAPH EXPO 2011, Carli discussed the digital-vs.-print debate, including some blatant false claims about the print medium not being eco-friendly. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is revising its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, commonly known as the Green Guides, which provide guidance on specific green claims, such as biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, recycled content, and ozone safe. Carli said he knows of no print firm challenging any deceptive advertising or marketing claims. “It doesn’t cost anything,” he added, “and the burden of proof falls on the company making the [allegedly unsubstantiated] claims.” But still, there has been no action, no challenges from the ink-on-paper side.
One veteran print buyer at a large ad agency’s Chicago office concurred: “Most of my out-of-home clients are honestly not even aware of the ‘green’ movement,” he offered under condition of anonymity. US media buyers purchase what their clients demand, and the lion’s share is not demanding green, which does not surprise Carli in the least. “It’s just not seen as a critical issue here [in the US],” he said, blaming the North American media in part for giving environmental issues a “light touch” and giving not-so-green companies a “free pass.”
There are exceptions, of course. Some companies like Nike, Puma, and Wal-Mart are taking a broad, hard look at their entire supply chains—everything from toxins in products to worker’s rights in emerging countries and progressive recycling/recovery initiatives. Sustainable supply chain scorecards are being developed by Ford, General Mills, IKEA, Procter & Gamble (P&G), and others. “Their approach has more of a lifecycle perspective,” Carli suggested. “It’s far more substantive, systemic, and quantitative, like what I see in Europe.”
The aforementioned 3M says it has completed some 8,600 projects that have resulted in the elimination of more than three billion pounds of pollution and saved the company nearly $1.4 billion. The firm concentrates on environmentally preferred packaging, including a boxless packaging initiative (which reduces waste such as boxes and end plugs) and a recycled resin end-plug initiative. It also has many highly durable and flexible UV-curable inkjet inks with low VOC content.