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Wednesday, November 21, 2012


The Oxford English Dictionary traces the first uses of the word green to grēne or grēn, an Old Frisian word, meaning green and fresh. Later in Old Icelandic, grœnn meaning the colour of green vegetation, fresh, hopeful, and good(OED Online 2012). In this glossary, the focus will be on the use of green as it relates to environmentalism. The thirteenth use of green in the Oxford English Dictionary is “Of a product, service, etc.: designed, produced, or operating in a way that minimizes harm to the natural environment” (OED Online 2012). For example, in the United States the EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, worked with private corporations and industries to reduce their energy consumption. In 2010, they were able to reduce “345 million metric tons of greenhouse gases” and saving around about $21 billion (EPA 2012).      

Despite the policies and protocols that governments and corporations have to reduce harm to the environment, the process and promotion of a green product, service or policy are fraught with external inconsistencies and contradictions. Procter and Gamble, which produces Dawn, an oil-based liquid dish soap, promotes its products as a green product for emotional appeal.  In the TV commercial, an uplifting tune is sung in the background, baby animals covered in crude oil are shown to be washed with Dawn soap and cared for, and the following message appears as caption: “Thousands of animals caught in oil spill have been saved using Dawn. Now your purchase can help save wildlife… tough on grease, yet gentle [for animals]”(Youtube 2009).Furthermore, on the website they advertise their rescue and donating thousands of bottle of their dish detergent and half a million dollars to the wildlife over the last 30 years(Procter and Gamble 2012).

The promotion of Dawn as a ‘green’ product disguises an important contradiction. In the journal Environmental Science and Technology, Kemper, Walse, and Mitch (2010) found that Dawn contains a very high concentration of N-Nitrosodimethylamine, which is a toxic substance that leads to cancer and cannot be fully removed through water filtration process. The green advertising campaign by Procter and Gamble avoids dealing with Dawn as a significant environmental toxic and carcinogen, instead focuses on superficial and ‘feel-good’ images that appeals to consumer-sensibilities. 

While Dawn’s commercial is an obvious example, the promotion of being ‘green’ has become a way for consumers to excuse themselves from doing more for the environment. As corporations might be harming the environment less than there competitors are, their products do not have a positive impact in our environment. This causes the illusion of consumers being able to buy their way to a better environment, but instead there is a need to do more. For example, by a community-organized coalition to improve the environment such as Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance whose plan is to improve the health and the environment of the local residents by removing the Sheridan Express and creating more green spaces.

EPA. 2012. “What Is EPA Doing About Climate Change?” http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/EPAactivities.html.

Kemper, Jerome M., Spencer S. Walse, and William A. Mitch. 2010. “Quaternary Amines As Nitrosamine Precursors: A Role for Consumer Products?” Environmental Science and Technology 44 (4) (January 19): 1224–1231.

Minard, Anne. 2010. “Shampoo, Comestics May Form Cancer-Causing Substance in Water Supplies.” National Geographic News. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/04/100429-shampoo-cancer-causing-substance/.

OED Online. 2012. “Green (as Adjective and Noun).” Oxford English Dictionary. http://www.oed.com.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/viewdictionaryentry/Entry/81167.

Procter and Gamble. 2012. “Dawn Helps Save Wildlife.” Dawn. http://www.dawn-dish.com/us/dawn/savingwildlife.

Youtube. 2009. Dawn Wildlife Commercial. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lCIjdon8Bg.

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