‘Green’ marketing dupes buyers

The MacBook Air has a case made from aluminum, one of the most sought-after recyclable metals, and a screen whose production was gentler on the environment.

While I enjoy the environment and appreciate Apple’s efforts to preserve it, I feel like there are many other features Apple could use to sell the $1,799 envelope-sized notebook. I value the environment—I just feel like an environmental image is incompatible with Apple’s marketing and product life-cycle.

Every year, many owners of Apple products crave a newer model. For some consumers, their iProduct has been destroyed from months of abuse. Others have experienced firsthand the “Death Seed” rumored by YouTube artists to be buried in every iPod. Lastly, and most concerning, some feel that after a year of use and with no flaws, their iProduct needs to be replaced because Apple has devised a newer way to integrate album art into the user experience.

iPods are not the only example of expensive, high-class items that are being advertised on the basis of their environmental impact. A similar example exists as close as the restrooms on campus, in the “Paper without Trees” slogan emblazoned on our paper towels.

I support recycling and think our use of 100 percent recycled paper towels is excellent, but find the guilt-free nature of this slogan unfortunate. Paper is not a closed-loop recyclable; though the grade of paper used in our restrooms can only make paper towels, it started as a tree and will end up in a landfill.

There are hundreds of examples of situations where products that are inherently not environmentally friendly are marketed as being “green.” More concerning than products and companies holding false environmental reputations is that environmentalism may become a trend. I feel like product presentation and pricing often suggest environmental products as a status symbol—only a fad.

Arguably, the largest example of products differentiated because of environmental features are cars. A Honda Insight or Toyota Prius could not possibly be mistaken for any other car. This is intentional, and may be why celebrities everywhere have bought their own Prius to show that they care.

Cars, because of their nature, typically have a longer product life-cycle than MP3 players. Because of the substantial investment in a car, if a driver decides to get rid of a car that still moves, their most profitable alternative is to sell it. If a car is green, this means the world gets several more years of low emissions. Still, buying a Prius as a secondary car or replacing it every two years will likely cancel any emissions savings.

Buying a Prius is not a problem on its own. I think it is a favorable approach to environmentalism compared to setting a parking lot full of Hummers on fire. Economically and ecologically, however, there is a debate over whether the initial cost of replacing a vehicle with a hybrid car is recovered through savings. Depending on your driving habits, a Prius may be a very good choice for you—or you may do less damage by putting more miles on an aging Explorer.

Incrementally, a mile driven in a 2008 Prius may be lighter than that of a 2007 model, and I believe that an LED-backlit screen with arsenic-free glass will, down the road, be beneficial for the environment. Unfortunately, marketers are attempting to rationalize the purchase of a new product on environmental friendliness. No matter how environmentally friendly a product is to manufacture, it would be friendlier to manufacture one fewer.

Any situation involving purchasing things will involve the use of raw materials. If you like to own stuff, that’s all right—I own things too. I don’t feel our campus would benefit if everyone started walking around campus barefoot and wearing homespun fabrics. I support hygiene and am not particularly bothered by large corporations. I just want to apply a healthy dose of skepticism to purchases of theoretically environmentally friendly products.

If you are buying an iProduct, buy it because it looks good, has a lot of space or because it has a large screen that you can use to share photos with friends—not because it has a recyclable case. A computer should be purchased with excitement over small size, light weight and high power.

I hope that anyone who is opening a laptop for the first time has more exciting things to consider than how its components will be handled in the waste stream.