Monday, April 20, 2009

Why Going 'Green' May Not Always Be a Good Thing

My all-time favourite ad guru, Jennifer Wells of The Globe and Mail, sang the praises of the new ad spot for Sun Chips and the world's first compostable chip bag. According Adhocracy, Wells' popular blog, she "absolutely loves this ad spot," and while I love Wells, I have to disagree with her on this one.

Wells sees this new creative for Sun Chips as an example of how to marketing can and should work "if green is your product's differentiation." But how 'green' can Sun Chips really claim to be?

I certainly don't believe that having a compostable chip bag is enough to merit a 'green' classification. What about all the carbon that goes into manufacturing, shipping and distribution? And where do the ingredients that go into making Sun Chips come from? Are they grown on sustainable farms? Probably not. More likely they are grown with the aid of pestidices and herbicides, and then shipped across the country in fuel-guzzling trucks.

Amidst all these factors, a compostable chip bag is merely a drop in the bucket. I suppose the marketing strategy for the new Sun Chips obliquely addresses this, stating that "this is our small step," but I still worry about the impact of claiming to be 'green' when really there are so many other factors that should go into such a classification.

Greenwashing, a term used to describe a company's spinning of their products and policies as environmentally friendly, is an ever-increasing problem in the ad world. It's easy to say your green (just make a decompostable chip bag, for example!) but how do we, as consumers, really know this is true?

There is currently no way to monitor or police the practice of greenwashing and, because of this, product claiming to do 'good' are in fact doing more harm that we realize. Consumers, myself included, may buy the new Sun Chips because we feel good about the packaging and we feel (as the commercial encourages) like we are doing our part.

But we would be wrong. And the consequences will undoubtedly come back to haunt us.