On Sunday, the Grand Rapids Press included an eight-page insert for Earth Day. The insert is titled “Greener Living” and is listed as an “advertising feature.” Consistent with the rest of the newspaper, this eight-page special Earth Day insert was 50% advertising, with ads coming mostly from companies promoting their eco-friendly practices. For instance, the entire last page is an ad from Spartan Stores with a picture of trees and the tag line “Making a Difference for Tomorrow.” The accompanying text says that Spartan Stores is committed to “making the world a better place” and that they plan to do this by recycling, using biodegradable products, and conserving energy. On one level, it all sounds good, but it is frequently problematic when companies claim that they are “green.”
Just because companies or other institutions call themselves “green,” it does not mean they engage in sustainable practices. In fact, many corporations use the “green” label primarily as a form of marketing. This is a tactic that many environmental organizations have described as a form of Greenwashing. Greenwashing is “the phenomena of socially and environmentally destructive corporations, attempting to preserve and expand their markets or power by posing as friends of the environment.”
In the case of Spartan Stores, while it is good that they recycle some of the waste generated in their stores, Spartan is essentially distracting the public from what they do and how they do it. Spartan Stores sells consumer products–primarily food–most of which is transported thousands of miles. The majority of what Spartan Stores sells is not regional, not organic, and even arguably non-essential items like junk food and prepackaged food-like stuff. Spartan Stores is a part of the corporate agricultural system, which is anything but sustainable, since it relies on huge government subsidies, is dependent on pesticides and fossil fuels for fertilizer, destroys aquifers for irrigation, and uses an increasingly larger amount of genetically modified seeds. Spartan Stores can use more energy efficient lighting and recycle all the cardboard it wants to, but until there is a change in the food production and transportation systems, what they do can never be called sustainable.
Once you subtract the four pages of advertising and the front page of the Grand Rapids Press Earth Day insert, one is left with three pages of information. Within those three pages of information, a whole half-page is devoted to what the Grand Rapids Press calls “A Green Glossary.” The Green Glossary is attributed to Lifegoggle.com and consists of roughly 50 words followed by brief descriptions. For instance, after the word landfill it states “area where waste is dumped and eventually covered with dirt and topsoil.” This seems like a pretty limited description of what landfills are considering all the environmental and health problems that come with landfills.
In addition to the glossary, the Press includes an “Earth Day Quiz” and a listing of local events and organizations. There are several articles included in the insert, including one on the history of Earth Day. However, most of the information included in the articles focuses on changing personal behavior and consumer choices, like light bulbs, fuel-efficient cars, and tips on how to make your home more energy efficient. There is nothing in the Grand Rapids Press Earth Day insert that discusses the global warming crisis, species extinction, deforestation, or anything that looks at corporate and industrial environmental destruction. Even if you made these issues more local, there is nothing about the health of the Great Lakes, the sulfide mining battle in the Upper Peninsula, the statewide campaign to build more coal-fired power plants, the issue of water extraction in Michigan. By not investigating these major issues, the Grand Rapids Press fails to provide the public with adequate information to not only act responsibly in their personal lives, but also how people can work together to stop environmental destruction at an institutional level.