Even green comes in many shades

As a marketeer by trade, I’m hypersensitive to hype. We dish it out, so we recognize it being served up, including the good, bad and shady. Lately it’s getting harder to remember, is “hype” short for hyperbole or hypocrisy?

Take the latest McDonald’s ad campaign, “See what we’re made of,” featuring a parade of wholesome veggies, eggs, whole grain breads and meats, as if MacFoods, packed with cholesterol, fat, salt and sugar, couldn’t possibly be linked to rampant diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

In contrast, even though the ads are irritating, Carl’s Jr. is honest. Their characters munch, snort and splash their way through dripping mondo sandwiches, as if to say, “Hey, it’s all about animal gratification so why kid ourselves?” At least they’re not telling us to be proud to choose the 1130-calorie Western Bacon Six Dollar Burger.

And now the latest marketing trend to go hyperdrive: green everything. As an environmental fusspot, I’m thrilled to see green momentum, but must we tolerate so many ridiculous claims of environmental sensibility?

Ford celebrates, “It’s easy being green” while fighting government efforts to raise fuel economy standards and having every year since 1999 the worst overall fuel economy of any American automaker, according to the EPA.

PepsiCo tells us, “Environmental stewardship is a core part of [our] vision.” Their Aquafina fills many of the 29 billion water bottles used in the U.S. annually, which, according to the Earth Policy Institute, requires 17.6 million barrels of oil to produce. All that for schlepping tap water.

Here in Fort Collins, restaurants package food and drinks in reusable containers, those way-thicker plastic oversized cups and salad containers. They’re quick to proclaim their Earth Day mindset by encouraging reuse instead of disposal. But let’s be realistic. The average American buys 150 fast food meals per year. That’s a lot of Shrek the Third soda cups for kitchen cabinets and workspaces.

In reality, it’s just more garbage and worse garbage, the kind that breaks down slowest in landfills. Smarter would be good ol’ renewable paper — better still from recycled materials — without a smidge of plastic or Styrofoam.

All around the country right now, corporate executives are prodding their minions, “What can we say that makes us look green?”

I’m reminded of those sanctimonious little notes placed in hotel bathrooms encouraging us to reuse towels because Hilton’s owners are so passionate about conserving water. Granted, it’s the right thing to do, but let’s see a little acknowledgment that the practice reduces the hotel’s utility and labor costs.

Fortunately, lots of companies are also working on what they can do to be green, but let’s not delude ourselves about the motivation. As we bask in the sunshine of our magnificent free-enterprise system, we’re reminded that businesses exist to make money, and that’s the way the system is supposed to work.

But green can also make green, the cash variety, and that’s the real motivator. Toyota viewed hybrid vehicles as more than PR gestures, and now the Prius is big business.

These times require extra consumer diligence to separate high ideals from hooey.

With that said, not only does this editorial contain no trans fats, if you read it online, instead of on newsprint, you will help support my unwavering commitment to being a carbon-neutral journalist.

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