On April 22, 2010, the world celebrated the 40th edition of Earth Day. According to , it is the largest secular event in the world with over 1 billion people participating in over 190 countries. This number was surprising to me because I barely remember reading anything about the event that allegedly included 1/7 of the population. Other than the Google homepage spelling out Google in very “earthy” letters, Earth Day would have passed me by unnoticed. By contrast, events like the (75,000 people), the (140,000 people), and even the draft (held in Radio City Music Hall) had around the clock coverage, but were much smaller in scale. Even a BP oil spill that happened off the Gulf Coast on April 20th was receiving around the clock coverage during Earth Day. This made me believe that Earth Day would be more effective if people focused more on what they were trying to accomplish rather than how many people participated. Thus, the question was raised: how many companies are serious about its environmental goals and how many are focused on convincing the public that they are serious?
I can not speak for every company nor can I provide a complete analysis on the positive and negative effects of any company’s environmental policy. However, I can point out a few examples of environmental hypocrisy that will remind everyone that the only difference you can be sure of is the one you make yourself.
Let us begin with BP. Oil companies already have a bad reputation regarding the environment and we have heard everyone blasting BP for spilling oil into the Gulf. What people are not talking about is that BP has been recognized as one of the most environmentally conscience companies in the world. Granted, operating an oil company generates a certain amount of pollution, but so do dozens of other industries. So where is the hypocrisy? It lies in the federal government. Just listen to how they scold BP and its offshore drilling efforts. Even though, on April 1st, President Obama lifted a decades-long moratorium on offshore drilling. This effectively allows new drilling to take place in Alaska, the Gulf, and the entire Atlantic coast. New drilling has been banned for the last 20 years.
During the government’s tongue lashing of BP, you will also not hear them mention that BP was one of three finalists for the. The winner was chosen before April 20th, but the ceremony has been postponed. If BP was not the original winner, then why postpone the ceremony? You also will not hear them mention BP as a finalist for the . In other words, BP is a finalist for having the safest off-shore drilling operation. The winner of this award was also chosen before April 20th, and the . I wonder who won. It appears to me that BP is serious about the environment and the government is more concerned with making you think it cares.
Another great example is . They announced on March 29th that they are launching the first electric delivery vehicle. Awesome FedEx, we appreciate your efforts. , which is not up and running yet. Shocking.
The only problem with announcing that you are the first at something is that people might not believe you. As it turns out, has been operating 4 electric delivery trucks in New York since 2004, and dozens more in Europe. The difference is that FedEx felt the need to run ads, commercials, and hold a press conference to tell the world about the one electric vehicle that they have and do not use. UPS did the same thing without running around telling the world how wonderful they are. They wanted to make a difference and did. FedEx wants you to think that it is considering making a difference, but has not yet.
The point is, before you allow a company’s environmental policies effect where you spend your money, remember that they will overstate the positives, understate the negatives, and say whatever you want to hear to get your business, fatten their wallets, and make you feel warm and fuzzy on the inside. Like the old saying goes, “The loudest person in the room has the least to say.” If a company was really making a difference it would not have to consistently tell you that it was. You would notice, and if you really care about doing your part for the environment, remember, the only part that matters is the part you do yourself. Don’t let a company fool you into thinking you are helping if you purchase its products. The only difference it will truly make is on their balance sheet.