Friday 25 September 2009

The rise of Product Placement

Brand republic reported last week that secretary of state for culture media and sport Ben Bradshaw has announced a Government U-turn on the laws limiting product placement on British TV. It is already rife in films, James Bond wears a 'xxxxx' watch and drives a 'xxxx' car as he goes around being a sexy macho uber man. If you watch any US made programmes you will find loads of product placement, this image is from American Idol. Not all of it is as blatant as this example, the more subtle efforts probably work better anyway. So where were the Climate Change campaigners when Ben Bradshaw made this announcement at The Royal Television Society last week? If I had of known about it earlier, I would have gone down there, I'm keeping my eyes open for other opportunities. Consumerism is at the heart of most if not all environmental problems. We live in an age of aggressive materialism product placement is like a virus that fills the minds of the TV viewing public with reassurances that drinking Coke, driving SUV's, wearing designer label clothes and so on is OK and indeed desirable. Obviously this could be a good thing, maybe Ecotricity, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace will be able to infiltrate their logos into Eastenders and Coronation Street, somehow I think they will be blown out of the water by bigger, richer, more polluting corporations. Throw away your television

Wednesday 23 September 2009

Comments on: 'Exploring Behaviour Change Barriers at Greengaged'

This is a comment I left on an article by Ed Gillespie over on Greengaged...

There is some great stuff here, lots of people are beginning to sit up and take notice of the fact that people don't 'hurt' the environment because they hate it. They hurt it because they love doing other things like 1. travelling, 2. expressing themselves through their appearance, 3. eating(!) and 4. having a warm, well lit home. Those four categories are just the tip of the iceberg, they have many sub-categories: People like driving Ferrari's, people like wearing Diesel jeans, people like eating Tesco's finest strawberry cheesecake and people like buying the latest SMEG fridge... The reasons why people like doing things are hugely complex and they all make sense to us in some way at the decision making moment. A lot of things don't make sense to us when we have our eco hats on but they do make sense to us when we have our 'Keeping up with the Joneses' or 'I want to be sexy' hats on. To use academic speak here, we have 'plural rationalities'; for example, something can seem completely irrational from an environmental perspective but entirely rational from a marital harmony perspective (and the latter in that example almost always wins out!) Design has a massive role to play in making our lives more eco-efficient, but and this is a big BUT... the reasons why people want fashionable clothes and for that matter fashionable homes, holidays, food and all the rest of it, are complex. They involve the interrelationships we have with our peers, our heroes, our family, our community, our old school friends as well as brands, governments, environmentalists, celebrities and social networking sites (that bring all these thing into one intense space)!

We have been infantalised by the kings and queens of consumerism into feeling that we need a multitude of goods and services to be 'happy', 'normal', 'unique', 'cool', 'young', 'vibrant' and so on. Eg: in 2009 we discovered that we MUST twitter, so we all do! The cultural world around us creates anxieties, it makes us feel we are missing out and that we are inadequate, behind the times and un-cool as a result. Nearly all this adds up to education AGAINST sustainability because we are encouraged to buy goods, services, holidays, etc that are only ever really pseudo-satisfiers of our insecurities and more often than not environmentally damaging in their manufacture, marketing, transport, use and disposal (reused and recycled or not).

If we are not careful 'being green' will become just another one of these insecurities and will mix in with all our other insecurities as we struggle to create and maintain an acceptable public image. For many 'being green' is already something they aspire to, but is it because they genuinely understand and feel the need to be deeply, in the same way as they are not racist, or is it because everyone else seems to think it is pretty important to 'be green'. If most people are in the latter category the result is widespread shallow environmentalism; greenwash at the individual level transferring to societal wide greenwash. In the UK today, it is much harder to be deeply green than it is to be a non-racist. Not being racist is not a chore, it does not conflict with the rest of our lives. Being green is much harder as it can compromise our desires to buy/do things that promise to relieve our manufactured and genuine needs, wants and insecurities. Things like being cool, being relaxed, being safe, being young and sexy and, when it comes to commuter travel choices, being on time! We can't have all these things in 'sustainable' ways so it is good that designers are trying to make these things more eco-efficient, but often we can come to not feel the need for the things at all and that is the important point to remember.

The human race is still evolving, it is still incredibly immature and insecure. We need to mature as people and as a species so that we are less reliant on external confirmations that we are 'ok'. We need to be more secure in who we are and more efficient at satisfying rather than buying into 'pseudo' satisfiers of both our material and non-material needs. Designers have a huge role to play in this, they can design the material things we need 'cradle to cradle' and resist the temptation to add un-related meanings to their products. 'This fridge will keep your food cold with minimal environmental impact and it will look as 'ok' as a lump of metal in the corner of your kitchen can look' as opposed to 'This fridge tells people that you are successful, glamorous, artistic and on the pulse.'

Education FOR sustainability and Environmentally responsible behaviour change is about far more than just working out 'greener' ways of having a jacuzzi or playing a computer game, it is about empathy, kindness, respect, maturity, status anxiety, the music of Crass, Kramer vs Kramer, Into the Wild and Tobias Jones' excellent book 'Utopian Dreams'. Systemic change is needed because we can't keep having it all, we need an economic and cultural system that understands that and does not foster a desire in us to want, want, want, buy, buy, buy.

Monday 14 September 2009

Zac Goldsmith

Zac Goldsmith is on the verge of a new stage in his career, he is running for government. He also has a new book out about constant economies. He is poised to become the most influential environmentalist. On September 23rd he has a public meeting down near Wimbledon, here are the details:

23 September 2009
Public meeting Coombe Hill
Wednesday 23 September at 7.45, Coombe Hill Junior School, Coombe Lane West, KT2 7DD

Zac will be discussing:
Local Schools
Council Tax
Green spaces
Parking charges
Small Shops.. and any other issues you would like to raise, so please come along!

More details:

It should be interesting to hear what his audience there has to say. I'm going to try to go along!

Tony Juniper looking forward to Copenhagen?

I'm interviewing a few people for my book at the moment, perhaps this is why I'm not getting much put up on this blog! Here is an extract from the interview I did with Tony Juniper last month. I asked him if he is going to Copenhagen this December, what his aims are and what he thinks might happen.
I’m going to watch, that will be my main aim, find out what happened and to have that as an important piece of information. It is always best to be there I find. I mean if you look at the media coverage it is inevitable that the stuff that comes out the day after the thing finishes is always instructive in that you look at 10 articles and you’ll get 10 completely different versions of what happened depending on who the journalist spoke to just as the meeting was closing. Did they speak to Eva De Burgh, the head of Greenpeace, the Americans, the EU or the Chinese? You get a different version from all of them... absolute success, complete disaster, mixed kind of wins, no wins at all. You have to be there really to form your own views because the media... it’s too complicated for a news story, that’s part of the trouble.
But, what’s going to happen there? I don’t know. The countries are still divided, there does not seem to be a lot of sweetness and light between different blocks, the Africans and the Europeans and the Chinese and the Americans, never-mind the Indians, the Russians and the Brazilians. So the chances of a deal that is going to do what is needed, i.e. a 40% cut by 2020, 80-90% cut by 2050, I don’t think there is a very big chance that is going to be done at Copenhagen. What we might get is some modest commitments in outline, probably not a very detailed deal at Copenhagen but maybe, at best, an agreement that countries need to work towards some framework that will include adaptation, cuts, money, forests, whatever and maybe that will get some flesh put on it during 2010 with any luck.
Some people say that the worse thing that could happen in Copenhagen is half of a crap deal that can be presented as a good one and the mistake then is that governments in the West, in particular, believe that they‘ve done the job when actually what they’ve committed to is like a 5% cut by 2020 and they think that is good. That could be the worst case scenario. In some ways a complete collapse in Copenhagen, on the grounds that it is crap might not be the worst outcome if it means they have to come back again and the political anti is lifted. But, yes there is a real danger that there could be something weak coming from there that is seen as the answer. I think what will probably happen is that there will be half a deal and it will get signed off in 2010. But, you know, it is still going to be one that does the job really, this is kind of last chance. I mean everyone has said it, but it’s true, you know the more the science comes through with new runs on the modelling and observations on what is happening to the seas and the oceans and everything else, you can see that this is actually worse than anyone thought, in terms of scale and speed that it is going at. So, you know four degrees temperature increase plausible by 2100, complete catastrophe for life on Earth including humankind, this is the last chance to avoid it really... [wry laugh]
So there you have it, what must not happen is 'half a crap deal' lets hope it doesn't!