Environmental Public Service Announcements Counter Green Washing

Kiernan explores the efforts of groups like Earth Limited to educate about environmental issues. Included in the discussion is a look at the acceptance of such ads by networks and corporations.

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    Detergents have been linked to harmful environmental and health effects.

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On the radio a young woman begins to sing what seems to be just another folk song. The tune is familiar enough, but the lyrics are unusually blunt. The song in part goes: 

Don't care about no sexy car;
I just want to see the sky;
Don't want my kids to die.

As the music fades, an announcer states coolly: "Money is the language carmakers really understand. So this year talk their language. Don't buy a new car. They'll get the message. Brought to you in the interest of clean air by Earth Limited. "  

A few years ago public service ads devoted to preserving the environment seldom went beyond the grumblings of Smokey the Bear and his obsession with preventing forest fires. Now, Smokey has a companion, Woodsy the Owl (Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute). But even Woodsy's days—and his gentle anti-pollution appeals—may be numbered. Groups like Earth Limited are highly skeptical of the soft-sell approach to public service environmental ads. They want "tough, straight-on" counter-commercials now . . . and despite considerable opposition, ads like the one above are beginning to get exposure.

True, only a handful of such hard-hitting commercials exist today (money to buy the time to air them is scarce) and most broadcasters refuse to run the eco-spots for free. But in the last year Earth Limited, a small group headed by National Lampoon associate editor Tony Hedra, has managed to find a few radio stations willing to donate air time and—in what could be a major breakthrough—CBS television has agreed to air three watered-down versions of the group's ads on its national network.

"Unfortunately, CBS rejected three much tougher ads which we produced," says Hedra, noting that one ad which CBS rejected had the Rev. Billy Graham advising consumers not to buy phosphate detergents. "They wanted us to be less specific. We were not supposed to name particular kinds of products." Eventually CBS settled upon Barbara Streisand urging people to conserve electricity, Carol Burnett telling folks to walk more and drive less and Andy Griffith explaining the merits of keeping America beautiful.

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