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The Challenges of Green Marketing in The Age of Persuasion

I am an unabashed Public Radio junkie. All of my Sony Ericsson Walkman phones back to 2006, have not only had integrated flashlights but also functioned as transistor radios, allowing me to be permanently hooked up to CBC Radio 1, or to BBC and NPR Podcasts.

This week's award-winning Age of Persuasion Episode is titled "It's Not Easy Being Green: Green Marketing" and is one of my three essential Podcast episodes of 2011*.

Rachel-Carson-Bridge-in-PittsburghTerry begins with Rachel Carson (that's her bridge in Pittsburgh) and then traces the history of environmentally conscious consumerism, linking it to how marketers and advertisers have shaped their campaigns for sustainable, green goods. In  2007, 300,000 green trademarks were registered with patent offices, which is more than the number of trademarks and patents sought at the height of the boom.

The three main take-home messages are:

1. "Beginning with the publication of Silent Spring in 1962... various environmental crises have provoked behavioural change and new behavioural changes created new demands from the public." Responding to these demands for new products (such as sun protection lotions following the discovery of the ozone hole) has required "very delicate, very careful marketing on behalf of advertisers".

In green marketing, the public wants to know the motives of companies immediately, and green marketing ignites scrutiny.

2. "One of the biggest problems for marketers is that sustainability is a moving target. And there haven't been any universally-accepted baselines or calculators." E.g. "Are paper products green and good or, do they flatten forests? Is glass eco-friendly or, does it take a lot more fuel to transport glass than it does plastic? Is cotton one of the most natural products in the world or, is cotton one of the world's biggest pesticide crops? It's a very complicated issue."

3. The fatal mistake when it comes to green marketing is that "virtue cannot be proclaimed in green marketing". Smart marketers stay humble in their green marketing, so that the customer and press spread the word about green and ethical companies. Accusations of "Greenwashing", the deceptive use of green marketing or PR (Jay Westerveld, 1986), are likely to be targeted at green marketing campaigns with over-the-top claims, and to have major consequences.

The most cited example of Greenwashing is the rebranding of British Petroleum (BP) as Beyond Petroleum. The campaign strategy was to rebrand BP as a progressive energy company, bp. The rebranding implied that wind and solar were being invested in heavily by BP, but the reality was that BP was investing more than ever in oil exploration. (And, was recently rebranded, and not by themselves, but the public, as Biggest Polluter).

This brilliant episode of The Age of Persuasion ended with the correct observation about the contradiction that lies at the heart of green marketing: that being sustainable means consuming less, while marketing is about encouraging people to consume more. Nevertheless, he goes on to conclude, that the main task of green marketing is to normalize those high quality, truly green products, that are sustainable across multiple social and environmental indicators.

And, from Bruce Philp's new book, The Consumer Republic: "Buy the change you wish to see in the world."

Congratulations, Terry!

Dawn Bazely

*My other two top Podcasts for 2011, so far...

July 26th  2011 Interview of David Altman by Jian Ghomeshi on Q, CBC, about the rise of narcissism in North America:

July 2nd  2011 interview of Lori Gottlieb by Jian Ghomeshi on Q, CBC, about how overparenting is creating brittle youth who lack resiliency because their parents have not allowed them to learn how to recover from failure.

The Green Marketing Manifesto by John Grant, was Terry's essential background reading.

Food blog no. 4 – essential reading on the topic of sustainable food

I thought that I might have enough opinions about food sustainability for 4 or perhaps 5 blogs. I am aghast to find that I could probably write one blog a week for a whole year. I shouldn't be surprised, since we all eat to live, and this is a universally interesting topic. Plus I have a professional interest in the subject as a plant ecologist, with an applied ecology focus involving animals that we eat - like geese, sheep and deer. This has taken me to many farms. I am also a keen gardener, and a keen cook.

I am not alone in my interest and there are superb writers and bloggers who inform me. My favourite book about diet, cooking and food sustainability is Hungry Planet and the photo essay, What the World Eats, reviewed in the following excellent You Tube video.

Alex Lewin's blog reviews books about food sustainability, including a number that I have mentioned.

Four other lists and sites worth mentioning include:'s sustainable food section's must-read books. This is a favourite, because the blogger admits to not having read Michael Pollan's In Defence of Food, which I haven't read either, for exaclty the same reason: I get the take-home message - "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Planet Friendly's website is worth a look, along with's sustainable food booklist for 2010 and's 2008 reading list.

Dawn R. Bazely

Food Blog no. 3 – why Gordon Ramsay’s F-Word is worth watching

During the three years before my family emigrated to Canada, I attended one of England's most academically elite schools: Haberdashers' Aske's School for Girls.

At the age of 12, along with Latin, French and German, I was taught some very basic life skills in my Cookery and Sewing classes. I built on these skills when doing field work on the shorelines of Hudson Bay. At 19, I took my turn in cooking meals in a field camp for up to 30 hungry field biologists (I was one of them). Today, I'll never compete in a top amateur chef contest, but pulling off a 4-course dinner party, in which every dish served is cooked by me, is no bother.

Sadly, Home Economics has been dropped from school curricula, not only in the UK, but in much of Canada. Jamie Oliver is the most famous TV chef  tackling the issue of food education for children, with his campaign to get British school kids to eat healthier lunches. The institutional history of British school food is fascinating. Jamie's latest T.V. show, the Food Revolution brings the campaign to the USA.

Jamie aside, for me, the most entertaining take on the whole "why can't people cook ?" issue is Gordon Ramsay, in his simultaneously hilarious and shocking F Word season 1 (the F Word is a programme about Food) campaign to get young British women into their kitchen. He got a lot of criticism for picking on women and was accused of being sexist. It certainly was mind-blowing to watch giggling young women admit to never having turned on their stove, but I can also attest to the fact that pretty much everyone I know who is under-35, male and female, with a FEW notable exceptions, lacks basic home economics skills. So, I'd have to side with the "Gordon was sexist" crowd on this one.

When a significant proportion of the younger demographic is not taught the basic ability to cook simple, nutritious food from scratch, and to plan menus and food budgets, why wouldn't we expect to see an obesity epidemic hitting the Global North from the USA to Europe? Lack of exercise is important, too, but for me, diet is as big a factor. Understanding food and where it comes from is also an essential part of educating for sustainability.

My extraordinarily busy family eats food mostly prepared from scratch, and we all pitch in, including my husband, a Julia Child afficianado. Forcing my kids into the kitchen has been a challenge. To do it, I had to run my own Home Economics course at home. Topics included how to clean a sink and toilet. And yes, I learned about basic hygiene back at Haberdashers'.    Dawn R. Bazely

NIMBYism and windfarms in Toronto

The City of Toronto was well ahead of the Canadian curve when it came to adopting basic principles of sustainability around public transport, intensification of building density and the need to increase sources of renewable energy. The Ontario Green Energy Act has provided marvelous opportunities for increasing provincial sources of renewable energy. I have been amazed at how wind farms built in recent years in southwestern Ontario and on the way to Grey Bruce have livened up the landscape.

But, as the province moves on from terrestrial wind farms to offshore projects, one Toronto community is mobilizing against them. Some Guildwood residents have asked their city councilors, Paul Ainslie and Brian Ashton, to bring forward a motion to the city’s executive committee asking the province for a blanket-moratorium on wind-power development. The Globe and Mail article, Bluff residents fight wind turbines, explains that this motion, if passed, will be purely symbolic. But, while it will have little impact, it illustrates the nature of local opposition to such projects. The article quotes my colleague, Mark Winfield: "it would be “tragic" if fear of angering residents prevented the city’s politicians from pursuing much-needed renewable energy initiatives."

I am grading final exams right now. Since my head is in this space, my response on hearing about this motion in the last week was to imagine a take-home exam that I would like to set all of the voting residents of this local community. Here are the essay questions:

1. Explain what the acronym NIMBY stands for and discuss how this may or may not be applicable to Guildwood.

2. Define the term “ecological footprint” and explain how you would calculate your personal footprint.

3. In the documentary, The Age of Stupid, the filmmaker, Franny Armstrong illustrates the case of local residents opposing a wind farm project on the basis of landscape aesthetics. Compare and contrast this case with that of Guildwood in terms of how you are still “do[ing] your bit for the environment” (quote from wind-farm opponent in The Age of Stupid).

4. Discuss the evidence in the peer-reviewed literature for the harmful impacts of wind farms on human health and the environment. In your answer, define the term, peer-reviewed literature. (hint - you may want to use Google Scholar for this).

The purpose of these questions? Well, none of them have definitive right or wrong answers, so they are aimed at improving the level of informed opinions on the issue, because, obviously, there is homework that would need to be done to answer these questions. In the Globe article, Mr. Ainslie comments “there’s a lot of things that are unanswered”. These questions would help in addressing his concerns.

And, I am NOT advocating for only peer-reviewed science to drive action and policy. My close colleague,  environmental ethicist, Dr. Nicole Klenk proposes that “scientific narratives should be denied a priori privilege over non-scientific interpretations of nature for policy purposes”. I completely agree – local knowledge is very important and should be taken into account. BUT just how much local knowledge is there about wind farms in Guildwood?

I have lost patience with the dominant notion in our society, that an uninformed opinion should count for as much as an informed opinion. Too many people, including my teenager,  are getting away without doing their homework. The question of exactly whom I see as being responsible for this lamentable state of affairs is a topic for another blog.

Dawn R. Bazely

PS the quote is from the 2008 article, Listening to the birds: a pragmatic proposal for forestry in the peer-reviewed journal, Environmental Values, volume 17, pages 331-351

Spring is here… too early

This morning, the novelist, Rui Umezawa, who is a neighbour and who kindly reads my blogs, asked me why I have been so inactive on the blogging front. "Too busy", I yelled across the garden fences. This term I have been teaching BIOLOGY 2010, the Plants course, which I taught from 1991-97, before powerpoint and course websites. So, while all of those life cycles are forever burned into my brain, chalk and talk, as we call that style of lecturing, is, in science, pretty much gone the way of the dodo. I have had to create Keynote and Powerpoint lectures and to learn "moodle" which is the most comprehensive electronic classroom software that I have ever seen. This open source software has replaced the way that I previously accessed my course websites - namely through the very nice, and now retired Biology Department Lecturer who functioned as our webmaster.

Moodle has allowed me to teach this course as I always wanted to: skipping from chapter 1 directly to chapter 32, and then to 21, to chapters 2-8, to 11-12 and then 18, 17, 16, 15, 14, 13 in Raven et al's Plant Biology 7th Ed.  CRAZY, right? But in fact, moving through the material in this sequence always made more sense to me than the linear way that I was forced to teach in earlier versions of the course text book: i.e. start at chapter number one and proceed forward in a one-way sequence. The internet and moodle has provided me with the tools to lay out a completely different roadmap than that provided by the book's author's and index, and, in 2010, the students can follow my map and route through the text book. If I had tried to do this in the 1990s, supported by paper course handouts and chalk and talk lectures, there would, most likely, have been a revolution in the lecturehall. Students who missed classes would have been griping about the jumping around, and any deviations from the lecture schedule, when I found that I was not delivering planned lectures on the expected date. With moodle, I  constantly update the students about where we got to, and with podcasted lectures, they have more flexibility than ever before, to miss a class and still catch up.

I LOVE IT - but it's been a heck of a lot of work at the back end. Still, there's nothing like jumping into a new technology with two feet, and sinking or swimming. The York University support staff have been amazing and I have taken several mini-courses. And, the time involved, has meant no time for blogging here. But, I have sought to imbue the course with a large measure of sustainability thinking. This is easy to do in a course that is essentially about biodiversity, why plants are important to humans, and about evolution. Our lectures on the Carboniferous and the tree ferns and progymnosperms (ancestors of seed plants) that fixed enormous amounts of carbon, and which subsequently turned into fossil fuels, relate directly to human-produced greenhouse gas emissions arising from the burning of these fossil fuels. I found an amazing old You Tube video about fossils, from the 1950s or 1960s by Royal Dutch Shell (that's Shell Oil to you and me), that the students have watched.

Everything is connected. Teaching about flowering plants and pointing out to my students that trees are already flowering , has reminded me, every day since early March, that climate change is happening NOW. I told my husband yesterday that one is supposed to prune roses when the forsythia blooms, and today, I have seen forsythia flowers. My gardening journals from the 1990s tells me that in 1994, the forsythia was only just flowering on April 27. In the early 2000s, I was noting that the forsythia blooming in mid-April was just "too early" - and in 2010, it's been flowering since the 2nd or 3rd of April. Climate warming is here, and in fact, in the USA, the Gardening Zones were  adjusted in 2006 by the Arbor Day Foundation to reflect this.

Dawn R. Bazely

COP15: The entitled, the resentful and the powerless


From one perspective, the climate change conference in Copenhagen looks rational.  It’s about science – understanding the implications of the largest scientific project in history – and it’s about deliberation – well briefed representatives of 192 nations brought together to write an international treaty.  But the meeting is not so rational.  People come to the negotiating table not only with interests, but also with emotions.  The negotiators in Copenhagen represent some who feel entitled, others who feel resentful and yet others who feel powerless.  This play of emotions seems to be the story of the conference, a global summit of desires, fears, outrage and frustration.  Out of this mix of emotions, the challenge is to feel and act on the latent but powerful feeling of mutual responsibility.

The feelings of resentment and powerlessness come into focus when the feelings of entitlement are acknowledged.  No leader of any developed country can say to its citizens, “We are not entitled to our way of life.”  The point of view is implicit in the language: “we” are developed; those who do not share our prosperity are “developing” or “underdeveloped.”  Surely the road ahead, as the international development industry has taught for decades, is for others to model themselves on us, to work hard and succeed, just as we have.  “We” can help the underdeveloped.  Money is available for assistance in climate adaptation and mitigation.  There are intellectual and organizational resources as well to support the transformation of the global energy system.

All this good will does not challenge the feelings of entitlement in developed countries, or even admit that entitlement is an issue.  People have become accustomed to - and the economic system dependent on - transportation, food and building practices that are comfortable and satisfying, but unsustainable.  Even leisure activities that produce high greenhouse gas emissions – air travel, destination holidays, cruise ships – seem unlikely to change dramatically on a voluntary basis.  This sense of entitlement is understandable.  Prosperous countries have meaningful historical narratives of hardship, struggle and success.

It is precisely this sense of entitlement that is the focus of the resentments that have surfaced so strongly in Copenhagen.  China, India and the others in the G77 use the language of “historical responsibility” - greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere when the West dominated industrial production.   The West has been responsible for the problem; the West has the responsibility to clean up the mess. Because the West’s prosperity is based on creating a global crisis, it also has the responsibility to assist others with the clean technologies that the global crisis requires.  To do otherwise is to ask the victims to pay for the damages.  The resentment gets even stronger.  Consider the history of the India textile industry.  When India was a colony, village weavers, using low GHG producing hand looms, were driven out of business by the importation of cheap cloth from British coal fired textile mills.  Now, India, with its impoverished multitudes, is being asked to restrain low per capita green house gas emissions in order for the West to continue its prosperity and higher per capita GHG emissions!  Perhaps the expressions of resentment are partly verbal posturing, intended to produce an agreement more favorable to the interests of the G77 plus China, but the outrage and anger are much more than tactics.

Some other countries, lacking the political leverage of China, India and a handful of others, are the beggars at the banquet.  The 39 members of the Alliance of Small Island States are, with the exception of Singapore, low income and vulnerable.  They can plead, but their ability to influence is slight.  The Alliance includes the most desperate, and the most frustrated.

The outcome at COP15 depends on more than the science, the negotiators’ clarity on national interests, and the skills at compromise.  The outcome, and even more the follow through, depend as well on the emotions that come out of the conference.  The perpetuation of entitlement, resentment and powerlessness jeopardize global success.  Rising to the challenge of climate change requires other emotions, of mutual care and concern, across the globe and across generations.  Success will ultimately come from shared personal commitments, and leadership that evokes them.

Stuart is a long-serving member of the IRIS Executive.

Dawn R. Bazely

“Why Woody?” – for an honorary degree

A very nice reporter from the Toronto Star asked me this question on the phone yesterday, as I was standing in a field in Milton, Ontario, next to 16-Milgiant 2e Creek. I was collecting seeds from Giant Hogweed, an invasive and somewhat toxic plant (see right).

Tomorrow, York University will confer an honorary degree on Woody Harrelson. Back in January, when I wrote my nomination letter, I had no idea that the announcement of this would coincide with the recent release of a popular commercial movie, starring him! I also had no idea as to how receptive the university committee responsible for Honorary Degrees would be to our nomination! After all, universities are very conservative institutions, as I found out from the raised eyebrows, back in the mid 1990s, when I had the temerity to suggest to some colleagues that we ought to consider nominating Oprah Winfrey for an honorary degree. At the time, she was dictating what America and my local Mum's Book Club was reading, through her book selections.

There have been a lot opinions offered about York conferring this degree on Woody Harrelson, in response to the CBC story. In the wake of my interview with the Star reporter, I think there's a few things worth mentioning from my answer to her question "Why Woody?"

1. The whole idea can be traced back to 2006 and the conversation that IRIS started about making York's course kits carbon neutral. Along the way, not only did we discover a huge interest amongst our students in the issue of climate change, but we also learned a lot about how unsustainable the publishing and printing industry is, in terms of how it produces books:  inks, paper, and the energy footprint of shipping books; akin to shipping bricks, a friend in publishing has told me.

2. Then, in August 2008, I was invited by the committee organizing our Fall Green Week, to suggest environmental and sustainability-related documentaries for screening. Since I am always forcing my family to watch educational docs, I had lots of ideas, as did others, and we had a lively discussion. I thought that An Inconvenient Truth was too ubiquitous to have much appeal at the time, and that Who Killed the Electric Car, was just a wee bit too boring. But Go Further was different from anything that I had ever seen, and might just be the ticket for an undergraduate audience. It was not at all preachy and took a very different approach to engaging youth than  found in the standard lecture.

3. When we screened the film, through a colleague at York, who turned out to have a brother in publishing, we also learned about the companion book to the documentary, which is incredibly sustainably produced. From him, we learned that the appearance of these kinds of books tends to have limited appeal to the purchasing public. This is why the books in stores don't tend to look like the Go Further book: they don't really sell that well. In other words - environmentally friendly, unshiny, dull-looking books don't cut it on the shelf - YET.

So there you have it, the boring story of why I got involved in this nomination. We did a bunch of research into and learning about a couple of key items of academic life - documentaries and books and learned about Woody Harrelson, too. And, as a good academic should be, I was also rather skeptical about the nomination venture. As I  wrote in my  letter:

"Mr. Harrelson has turned out to be an embodiment of our new York slogan and our old motto, that the way must be tried. Who would have thought that the goofy bartender from “Cheers” would turn out to be such an important environmental leader and activist?"

If universities are to be leaders, then we must be receptive to different modes of teaching and learning, and be prepared to recognize and honor them.

Dawn Bazely

Upcoming conference 21-22 Oct 09: Environmental Assessment at a Crossroads

The Ontario Association for Impact Assessment (OAIA) invites interested researchers, students and faculty to attend their upcoming conference  (see UniversityPoster2009) at the Ontario Science Centre, Toronto, on October 21st and 22nd 2009.

Student registration is $75. The OAIA is dedicated to supporting students, and is hosting a range of networking events at the conference.

Age of Stupid to be screened in Toronto at M.U.C.K. film festival and forum Saturday October 3rd at 6:30 pm

The engaging docu-drama about climate change, The Age of Stupid, will be screened this coming Saturday, at 6:30 pm at The Royal Cinema, 608 College Street (Little Italy) (416 534 5252) at the M.U.C.K. Film Festival and Forum.

The M.U.C.K. film festival and forum runs from Thursday October 1st to Sunday October 4th and features "movies of uncommon knowledge" that aim to "enlighten, enrage, engage and change", along with panels comprising the film makers and experts.

Read Dawn Bazely's review of the film, here.

Can blogging be sustainable?

It's about a year since I last blogged.  When we got the new IRIS website up and running, it was great fun to learn about blogging, but it actually took a lot of time to write and fact-check serious blogs (as opposed to simply churning out drivel).  It's been a challenge to get people associated with IRIS to commit to blogging and to sustain it.  This challenge has given me insight into why social networking sites such Facebook, and the sms-driven Twitter, are so appealing.  Having said that, while you CAN post to these sites really quickly, I also think that far too many people (including members of my family and a lot of students and older people that I know) spend far too much time on these sites; there is a very addictive quality about them.

My issue with finding time for blogging, is that, not only do I have lots of "Administrative Duties" (around here, the Director is as likely to be taking out the trash as to be schmoozing with VIPs), but I also lead active field-based research projects, supervise graduate students, write papers and book, carry out peer-review for journals and governments, and serve on many external bodies - plus I have children (teenagers need as much time and attention as toddlers) and a husband who is on the road a lot.  So, my blogging about sustainability had to be sidelined.  But, no more - I have decided that I will be doing less intensive and more twitter-like blogging, that is much more frequent.  Why?  Because a large part of my job is about being a Connector in a Gladwellian, Tipping Point, sense. The more that I participate in sustainability-related conversations, the more I have come to realize that many concerned people remain hugely unaware of many important issues that relate directly to their concern about sustainability. Additionally, because IRIS is about sustainability in an academic setting, IRIS members - including myself - are also Mavens or information specialists (again, see The Tipping Point).  For example, my research on why many forests in southern Ontario are falling down and are NOT sustained forest ecosystems, is producing new information and knowledge (see photos of Rondeau Provincial Park, and the low density of trees, due to deer browsing on the twigs of saplings, resulting in long-term mortality of high woody species i.e. trees).

So - as a professor, who cannot resist giving homework - today's assigned reading is Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point - but if you don't have time, the Wikipedia page on this one is just fine.

Dawn Bazely