By K. Billy Zoroastrian, NFFHC Founder, Persona Emeritus
I guess I should start by clarifying that I’m not against environmentalism. I like the EPA. I like the National Parks System. I’m glad we have people making sure companies don’t rape and pillage every last ounce of this planet just to squeeze a couple more cents per share into the fiscal year. What I don’t like, are causes du jour being used to manipulate our behavior. A classic example is what some have called “greenwashing,” the selling of substandard and/or overpriced shit to consumers on the grounds that it’s good for the environment. That’s not to say than any company touting the environmental bona fides of a product are greenwashing consumers. Like most things in life, it’s a matter of degree. Touting a coffee cup as made of recycled materials is fine. Pulling a used coffee cup out of the trash and calling it “recycled” is not. Submitted for your righteous indignation, the four most egregious greenwashes I’ve seen.
- Valvoline™ NextGen™ Oil
In high school I used to help a buddy of mine work on cars. The most common thing we did was change the oil. One time I accompanied him down to Wal-Mart to buy some fresh O for his hoopty. He insisted on getting Pennzoil® and, because I’m a cheapskate who buys generic whenever possible, I asked why he didn’t buy the much cheaper off-brand. He said cheap oil like that is refurbished and does an inferior job of protecting the engine. By refurbished he meant they take used oil, filter out the dirty engine bits and resell it. In laymen’s terms, it’s recycled. Now, regardless of whether he was right about refurbished being worse for your engine, one thing is indisputable: it’s considerably cheaper to produce than regular oil.
Fast forward 15 years to the present day. I show up at Valvoline to get an oil change. Though they still offer their regular oil, the default oil change option is now what they call “NextGen™,” and they’re pushing it like penis enlargement pills and one weird tricks. I ask them what the stuff was and find out that it’s not NextGen™ in the sense of being a brilliant new formula (at least not for consumers). It’s NextGen™ in the sense that it’s a recycled version of some old shit someone pumped out of another car. They claim Valvoline™’s tireless commitment to the environment motivated the company to come up with this new formula, which sounds about as rock solid as Phillip Morris’s tireless commitment to keep kids from smoking or a mobster who claims he only kills people who “had it coming.”
Anywho, the mechanic asked me if I wanted to “go green” and put this shit in my car, adding that they offered this dubious service at “no extra charge.” How fucking generous! They’re giving me the shit that costs half as much to produce at no extra charge. I almost wished they charged more for it than their regular oil. That would require such a shameless set of granite testicles I might actually respect it. But the price point they’re actually charging is just slimy.
If they were really doing it for the environment they would offer it at a lower price relative to new oil since it costs them less to produce. In reality, it’s just an excuse to dupe consumers into paying more for cheaper shit. Demand new oil. Better yet, demand they throw away your old oil so they can’t just filter it and sell it to the next poor schlub who comes in there.
- Not Replacing Towels at Hotels
Practically every goddamn hotel does this now. When you check in you’ll usually find some passive aggressive note by the towels saying that, in the interest of preventing the planet from becoming a smoldering heap of polar bear ash, they won’t replace your dirty towels unless you request it. Or at the more generous hotels they’ll only do it without request every four days or so. Many also extend this practice to the sheets. This is basically like McDonald’s classic efficiency play of only giving you ketchup packets if you request them. In that case, though, the motivation is obvious and straightforward, so it doesn’t really qualify as a dupe. Plus, I figure most people who really like their ketchup would request it every time anyway, just to make sure.
What the hotels are doing, on the other hand, is passing off increased profit margins as civic mindedness. They don’t give two shits about adorable polar bear cubs. What they want is to save millions of dollars per year through their customers’ inconvenience. That in itself doesn’t necessarily bother me. People create businesses to make money, after all. Greed isn’t so bad. It lubricates the invisible dick of capitalism, which helps a lot of us get laid. What pisses me off is the deception and the shamelessness of it. Stealing is bad, but stealing from the collection plate is worse.
And that’s just it. I could actually care less if my towels are cleaned every day. I doubt I clean my towels at home more than once a month. I’d actually straight up admire them if they passed the savings on to the customer in the form of lower room rates, but only the most fanatical of free market zealots really believe they’re going to do that, so fuck ‘em.
- Ethanol Gasolines
Another car-related greenwashing scam, ethanol gasolines are fuels made of a combination of denatured ethanol (poisoned booze) and gasoline. It comes in two varieties: E10, which is a fuel mixture of 90% gasoline and 10% ethanol, and E85, which contains 51 to 83% ethanol and the rest as gasoline. They claim it’s better for the environment both because it produces fewer emissions and because the corn used to produce the ethanol is a renewable resource. Both are kind of a crock of shit. E10 pisses me off the most, though, since it’s sold to people with regular cars, often with only some fine print on the pump to inform you that what you’re buying isn’t pure gas. E85, on the hand, is only sold to people with engines that are built to handle it, so I assume they’re better informed about what they’re getting into. Not that I think that’s cool, either.
In any case, ethanol fuels are a wonderful amalgamation of political pandering to special interest groups and blatant consumer deception. Gasoline engines can run on ethanol gasoline, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same thing as pure unleaded. For one thing, it gets worse gas mileage than using pure gas, on the order of 15-30% worse for E85. Ethanol fuels are also worse for your engine that ol’ fashioned unleaded, so much so that using a high ethanol blend can void warranties.
But what really gets me about this is that it’s passed off as going green because it supposedly reduces car emissions a little bit. And you know what? It doesn’t even do that. What proponents never include in the calculation are the emissions to produce it. Producing corn ethanol is a net energy loss, requiring an estimated input of 131,000 BTUs of energy to get a mere 77,000 BTUs. So corn ethanol might produce fewer emissions when burned in your car, but the overall emissions for production and use combined are far higher. What corn ethanol is, is a very beneficial new market for America’s most unsung welfare recipients: farmers. Like I said, making ethanol from corn is wonderfully inefficient, which means it requires massive quantities of Midwestern gold (the production of which is already subsidized by the government btdubs).
- Overpriced, Inefficiently Produced Locally-Sourced Produce
It doesn’t seem to matter that locally-sourced vegetables on average have a greater carbon footprint than products grown in an ideal climate and trucked halfway around the world. The imagined efficiency of local sourcing makes enough intuitive sense to fool most consumers (myself included) into paying more to think they’re helping the planet. Sure, transportation emissions are greater for stuff produced a long way from where they’re sold, but transportation emissions are only a fraction of the emissions that go into producing fruits and vegetables.
If this doesn’t seem to make sense, think about an example: hydroponic tomatoes grown in a greenhouse in Minnesota and sold locally versus tomatoes grown outdoors in South America and delivered to Minnesota. For those who don’t know, Minnesota is cold as fuck and keeping a hydroponics lab climate-controlled and pumping water into the maters requires a lot of energy—a lot more than is expended trucking South American tomatoes halfway around the world. But that doesn’t stop local producers from charging twice as much under the banner of environmental protection.
That’s not to say locally-sourced can’t be more efficient. It’s just that, like most stuff, it’s more complex than it seems, so don’t assume you’re doing Mother Nature a solid by buying locally. If you really care about the environment you can take the time and do a little research to make up your mind for yourself.