Thanks in part to some amazing individuals and groups, news headlines around environmental issues are finally becoming a more common occurrence (despite people who have worked in this field pointing out for decades how we are damaging the planet and the dark place that could eventually lead us).
In fact, I would even go as far as to say the environment is currently ‘on trend’.
This is great in many ways, it gets people talking about the issue who perhaps were previously not engaged. It brings the topic of climate change up at our dinner tables or the issue of plastic pollution up during the weekly shop.
But these days when something starts trending, whether that is a new pop band, a computer game or even the environment. You can be sure that the advertisers and marketers will be lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce.
I feel like every other person I meet in the UK seems to work in marketing or advertising of one form or another. I guess as the jobs involving physically making products are lost to machines, those employees move into trying to get us to buy them.
This is not a new thing, appearing green or ‘greenwashing’ has been around for a while, there has always been a market available of environmentally conscious individuals. But over the past few years this has really stepped up, I can imagine the marketers sat around in meetings wondering how they are going to shoe-horn ‘eco’ or ‘green’ into their next product line.
This can lead to some positive changes, companies moving towards more sustainable packaging, for example, is a necessary step and if it has to be used as a point of marketing as to why you should choose that shop over a competitor I suppose that is fine. But this is coupled with more ridiculous ideas such as one I came across recently…a can of water.
The company CanO Water have been paying attention to what is trending, and a clever marketing guru has noticed that people are pretty angry about the issue of plastic and specifically plastic water bottles. This has lead to them coming up with a ‘solution’, which is to use a can instead. In their campaign wording, they note that aluminium is infinitely recyclable, whereas plastic is not. But this still relies on humans correctly recycling these cans and not just throwing them in the nearest river. It also forgets that the aluminium had to come from somewhere, in an extraction process that is one of the most polluting around. But most importantly it forgets to mention that for most of us in 2019 water comes out the tap! In fact, in Europe, there are more stringent laws around the safety of tap water than bottled or canned water. Unfortunately, nobody is paying for magazine ads with pictures of water coming out of a tap.
Car companies are all over this trend at the moment. Advertisers show their new green, hybrid, efficient vehicle driving through forests to evocative music to make people think “yes maybe I am that sort of person, I need to care about the planet” before the words ‘buy new’ appear across the screen.
The problem is that for most marketers there is one ultimate goal, to sell you more stuff, and specifically new stuff.
This detracts from probably the most important behaviour that we all need to adopt if we are to get out of this mess we have created. To truly make an impact we must do less and we must buy less.
You won’t see this on a billboard in the city centre. You won’t see an advert for this between episodes of the latest TV drama.
It’s hard to blame the consumer, we have all spent virtually every day of our lives from childhood through to adulthood being persuaded to make unnecessary purchases and the tactics are becoming even more subtle. When words like ‘recycled’ and ‘eco-friendly’ are stuck on the front of a product, that is all it takes to ease the anxiety for many people and we shouldn’t expect them to go away and research every item specifically to check these claims are correct.
We are told one thing is bad, and then offered a simple solution. Buying an electric car may reduce your carbon emissions, but if everyone was to sell their gasoline car today and buy a new electric vehicle, the environmental costs from the manufacturing process alone would be astronomical. But you are much more likely to see an advert for a futuristic electric car than you are for the public transit system or bus.
So with so many complicated factors to take into account the only reliable solution has to be to buy less new stuff. It’s much more difficult to be tricked when you adopt that philosophy, you won’t have the resulting stress like when you discover you must re-use that new organic cotton bag 20,000 times to justify the full environmental impact over the plastic alternative.
Living a more minimalistic lifestyle has many benefits from giving you more freedom to reducing money worries. But on top of this your environmental footprint is bound to become much lower. The idea of minimalism used to conjure up visions of an empty white room with perhaps a single chair in the middle. But when you learn more about this way of living it is much more about living with more meaning and when you do buy something new, making sure it adds value to your life and taking a second to pause and check you haven’t been sneakily sold it against your will.
This isn’t to say that all marketing and advertising is a bad thing. The principles of the industry can, of course, be used for good. We have to market our ideas to people, we have to advertise the latest climate strike, we have to sell the benefits of a greener lifestyle. All it really needs is for us to constantly question all products and services before reaching for the credit card and asking ourselves if we truly need it or if we even want it.
Beware – the environment is starting to sell.