As public awareness of environmental issues and eco-friendly living grows, promoting a green image is increasingly profitable for large businesses. Unfortunately, the same cannot necessarily be said of promoting an actual green planet. Numerous multi-national corporations seem to have PR departments slapping environmentally-friendly symbols on the company wherever possible, but hybrid and electric cars remain very much a niche market, solar energy has only been implemented by a small handful of trailblazing companies and extremely proactive individuals, and bamboo products remain relatively unknown to all too many consumers. Meanwhile the small business and advocacy groups that exclusively specialize in these green products and developments struggle for a measure of public exposure in a world that is evidently so sympathetic to their concerns. How can this be?
Well, consumers and the public as a whole may be fairly committed to building a greener world, but their demand alone is not enough to bring the products that they truly want to the forefront of the American market. Demand is supposed to be the driver of production patterns, but that isn’t always the case. Sometimes public demand just determines marketing strategies, and sometimes it creates entire marketing outlets.
The Daily Green and other online and print magazines now exist ostensibly to provide pertinent information to people who want to establish green lifestyles for themselves and support environmental initiatives and eco-friendly industries throughout the world. Unfortunately, the information provided by these outlets is sometimes selective, limited, and consequently somewhat impertinent. The Daily Green, for instance, charges a minimum advertising fee of $25,000 for mention of a product, service, or company in any capacity on the site, which describes itself as “a consumer’s guide to green living.” As a consumer’s guide, then, it must be rather limited in its guidance. With no accommodation for smaller companies without substantial advertising budgets, The Daily Green is exposing green-conscious consumers only to established businesses that wish to market themselves according to a green image, not to small upstart companies that have entered the market on the basis of a genuine commitment to environmentally conscious business models. It’s also unlikely to let in potential advertisers who have fresh new ideas, or who specialize in products that are not widely available and thus haven’t had an opportunity to build demand or earn money that can be poured back into advertising.
We live in a society where we are constantly told that competition drives innovation, even in areas that people are supposed to genuinely care about, like curing the sick and saving the world. The idea is that the more hands are in the pot, the more the pot gets stirred, bringing up new ideas and new models for successful business. The trouble is that the same money-centered worldview that gives such high praise for competitive innovation also encourages a small number of very large players to shut out those competitors who might be invested in a particular area of business, research, or public relations because of genuine commitment to the topic, rather than because that topic’s current popularity makes it an effective way of adding to already inflated bank accounts.
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Hearst Digital Media, which owns The Daily Green, isn’t abiding by any principles of productive competition; it’s purely abiding by the principles of maximizing profit. Some might say that this is just how the free market works, that Hearst is a major player and in fair economic competition there are winners and losers, and the lines between them are often delineated by the availability of resources. But Hearst isn’t shutting out its own competition with these sorts of practices. It is a publishing company, not a maker of green technology, a creator of renewable resources, or a producer of environmentally-friendly goods. The Daily Green is effectively driving out competition in a separate industry, and one for which it claims to be committed to promoting and fostering competitive innovation. In reality, Hearst Digital Media and other companies like it are doing damage to green industries by focusing their would-be promotion of them on maximization of profit, at the expense of an actual effort to increase overall public awareness and consumer choice.
Hearst and other major media companies can certainly rely on corporations and greenwashing PR firms to channel substantial profits into their green-focused publications, but that will not translate to those publications channeling the best information to their readers and the would-be consumers of genuinely green products. We in the environmental movement cannot rely on such large corporations for a thorough transition to a greener society, at least not without pressure from smaller organizations beneath them, who are driven by serious commitment to a cause, rather than by pure profit. Long-established companies are unlikely to see green practices as an end in themselves, tending instead towards viewing every social pressure and bit of collective awareness as an opportunity to maintain and extend profits. It’s understandable that that would be the first priority of large businesses, but one hopes that that would not be the case with media, as well, least of all media that suggests commitment to a cause with its very name. The Daily Green and any other organizations that follow its profit-above-progress business model need to carefully consider what exactly they think the word “green” represents.
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