Global Warming Is Hot: Branding “Green” in the Age of Climate Change
Although green has experienced high currency in the past two years as a code word for all things environmental, it acts as shorthand for something that is not readily apparent and, subsequently, may not be readily understood. Green caught on in the 1970s as a descriptor for environmental issues, but the current popular interpretation is severed from the radical ideological roots proposed by the green social movement and the political framework adopted by the Green Party. While the term is used frequently within the environmentalist and sustainability sectors, corporations, marketers, and the media are increasingly defining what green means. Green principles vary from one industry to the next, and as more corporations enter the green fray to address both consumer desire and the bottom line (“greenwashing,” as it is often called), standardization of a product’s greenness varies. The different applications of green strain its meaning, making it a loosely applied term that requires contextualization with each use. As it stands now, green functions as a catchword encompassing multiple meanings and thus promoting a lifestyle that does not necessarily align with an environmental ethic. Ultimately, the current green rubric advocates a type of consumer ideology that empowers individuals through their purchasing choices while simultaneously eliding the primary issue it once sought to address: global warming.
Concurrent with the rise of green is increased news about global warming, or climate change, and its adverse effect on the planet. At the beginning of 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put to rest the debate about the legitimacy of anthropogenic global warming. Temperatures will continue to rise. All we can do now is find ways to mitigate the problem. This project examines a selection of green consumer phenomena within the constructed visual landscape: mainstream magazine coverage, ecofriendly consumer products, BP’s rebranding efforts to promote itself as “beyond petroleum,” and two green-themed events in San Francisco centered around the green oikos (“home”) and green agora (“marketplace”). These discrete moments are used to explore the positive and negative implications of code word green and how it colors our perceptions of what is arguably the most significant global problem of the 21st century.