Earth Day Guest Article: Plastic Beads and Sugar Water

Happy Earth Day, 2010!

Here at, we pride ourselves on being different, and we like thinking outside the mold. So for Earth Day 2010, we wanted to give you an article and a perspective that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. There is no doubt that we were all bombarded today with messages to be greener, to use less, to be more eco-conscious, and to respect our Earth. But what is the underlying effect of advertising that collectively promotes The Green Brand? And has the Green Brand started to overshadow the very evil—environmental devastation—it was meant to fight to begin with? What impact does this have on the future of the Green movement and the advertising agencies and media that are its vocal advocates? These are questions we are interested in answering. So when we recently met Matthew Phillips, a Los Angeles-based writer, social media and branding expert, and the founder of a new urban microliving movement called Threshing, we were delighted to give him center stage for Earth Day to offer his insights. What results is an intelligent, esoteric and thoughtful article entitled “Plastic Beads and Sugar Water,” sure to make you re-evaluate everything you thought you knew about going green. We welcome you to contribute to (and continue) the lively conversation in the comments section.

“Access to land provides access to food, clothing, and shelter—which means access to land provides the possibility of self-sufficiency—if anyone wants to maintain a dependent (and therefore somewhat dependable) workforce, it’s crucial for you to sever their access to land. It’s also crucial that you destroy wild foodstocks: why would I buy salmon from the grocery store if I could catch my dinner from the river? Now, with people having been effectively denied access to free food, clothing, and shelter, which means having been effectively denied access to self-sufficiency, if they are going to eat, they’re gong to have to buy their food, which means they’re going to have to go to work to get the cash to buy what they need to survive. If you’re a corporation, you’ve got them where you want them.” —What We Leave Behind.

Native Americans practiced and perfected an eco-sustainable culture on land long before it was dotted with wind turbines.

I have a great deal of admiration for our original permaculture engineers, the American Indians, all grass fed bison advocates. Looking back, we can’t imagine how naive or gullible they were to accept fire, water, plastic beads and useless trinkets in exchange for their healthy animals, fresh fruits and vegetables, consulting knowledge, and land—whose value is incalculable. Interestingly, here we are 518 years later, and we’ve all been duped into giving up our valuables for well marketed sugar water, and filtered tap… in plastic bottles.

After 1492 the American colonization effort was dominated by the European nations. In the 19th century alone, 50 million people left Europe for the Americas with ‘old world’ diseases, and a manifesto to massacre, obliterating 42 million American Indians. Everything changed; the landscape, population, plant and animal life. A few pioneers with rebel attitudes proved they could kill, conquer, and dominate an entire people and their land. What have we learned? When you deprive a group of people access to their land, you dominate and control their self-sufficiency, and ultimately their sustainability.

Earth Day was designed from its inception, April 22, 1970, to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. Like all successful grassroots movements, Earth Day continues to self-organize and experiences annual growth. Over the years, it has propagated thousands of related causes or brands. This celebration gives us the opportunity to contemplate how to purchase food and drink that are produced locally through natural, sustainable methods. Whether we graze together, or barbecue grass-fed bison, I anticipate that many foodborne conversations will thresh organic ideas that seed new urban backyard businesses, and energize sustainable causes.

Green living appeals, such as this one from GreenMaps, have proliferated greatly in our culture over the last few years.

In fact, in this past year, we have witnessed local production and sustainable social causes grab the wheel from the generic “Green” brand. ‘Local and sustainable’ terms have the potential to drive significant impact in helping redefine a movement whose banding terminology is arguably out-of-focus. The Green goal has not achieved our Garden of Eden fantasy. Many generic Green causes have become distracted watching, and often joining, the fight against their ‘evil,’ instead of cultivating community and encouraging positive purposeful action. We’ve seen new Green causes sprout through PR dusting designed to crowd out similar already established causes. There’s nothing wrong with competition, seeking a bigger audience, news, press, and ultimately funding, but often the next new Green cause articulates greater Green evils in an attempt to further establish its reason to rally. This problem is churned up further with traditional reports broadcasting emotionally charged sound bites. Reporters often don’t take the effort to dig past the easy emotional approach, and into the rich cream of the cause itself. It is much easier to philosophize about the negative, which can feed our illusion of intellectual superiority, but it’s really keeping our callus-free hands from getting dirty planting GM-free maze in the garden and producing oxygen. “The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves,” said Carl Jung.

A great brand seeks to unify in a cyclical system: Magnetizing believers, educating, generating action, and finally producing evangelists, who then magnetize new believers and so on. Memorable brands are most effective when they are communicating their power and concept through story. At its most basic, a brand’s story is made up of the hero, (relating to the brand’s reputation and hopefully positive recognition), and its evil, (the perception of what hinders recognition of the brand). Clarifying the adversaries of the brand can help to ‘rally the troops,’ codifying their cause and movement. Without an adversary, it’s often difficult to get enough of a rouse from fellow partners to get anything started.

Green brands, and the agencies that brand them, can all learn from Google.

Every great brand needs an evil to fight, but Green’s evil has metastasized into the most unimaginable catastrophe that no cause could ever compete against—an over heating planet. Since it doesn’t get much worse than a gooey globe due to our ongoing abuse, this heat enemy seemed guaranteed to become THE unifying force, an evil that we could all fight together to overcome. The problem is the scope is too large to control or confine. It has mutated. Proving global warming has the potential to fracture the green community, and along the way has produced a number of serious critics. Terms like ‘climategate,’ and climate skeptics like Doug Keenan, continue to look at research they say is embellished to promote climate change. Maybe worshiping the over heating demon has made the ‘Green’ brand seem boring compared to the excitement of the fight. Google never defined its “Don’t be Evil,” last minute tag, which is part of the reason it continues to generate conversations across the board. Google has essentially allowed all of us to insert our own definitions of evil, which in effect has unified greater numbers to their brand. A very novel approach.

If the evil of a brand consistently gains more press than the cause, then the evil assumes and replicates the identity of the brand. When this happens, the brand is no longer the host. When the evil forcefully sucks all the nourishment from the brand’s beating heart, then the evil we were fighting becomes the cause. We feel more comfortable with our fingers on the keyboard dealing intellectually with evil, which in effect, removes our foot from the shovel of physical, sweaty action. Do we want to get back to the heart of the brand, the original cause? Harley Davidson, once perceived as the brand of choice for rebels and tattooed ex-cons, re-branded itself and become the hog of choice for everyone who could scrape together enough money, regardless of prison experience, body type, tattoo placement, or gender. Even our kids wear official HD branded fashion with pride.

If we stop promoting the evils, real or manufactured, and start encouraging positive actions and solutions, (often positive action is the best offense against perceived evil anyway) we’ll find passionate people that want to join us in healing our people and planet. The strategic approach to refresh a brand is extremely important if it is to succeed. Digitally empowered consumers want to punish those that don’t behave in a socially responsible way and reward those that do. Social media has given people real power to act, and also to be negative. “Social media is inherently more negative than a positive medium on many levels,” said David Jones, the global chief executive of Havas Worldwide. “Lots of stuff that is passed around is negative. If you are a brand or a company today you should be far less worried about broadcast regulations than digitally empowered consumers.”

Many will continue to base their directive on creating new enemies, using ‘the fight’ to impassion those around them to rally their cause. Stop depleting the ozone layer, reduce your carbon footprint, global warming. All grand Green, but terminology that is technically fear-focused. We’ve heard the pitch: “It is your investment of $59.95 that allows us to partner together to fight this injustice.” The fear based, negative approach is almost always wrong, (unfortunately, it can be effective) . It’s a slippery slope, and those who don’t fully embrace the creed, are either stamped ‘stupid,’ or ostracized. But sustainability should be positive at its core. There is a time to debate, and we’ve debated ourselves into the greatest recession any of us have ever experienced. It’s time to stop debating.

Farmers markets in local rural and urban environments are an excellent example of community organization and positive cohesive sustainability action.

Let’s begin by forming communities that build sustainable ventures together. If we are fighting, or politicking, we are not building. “We have become divided into so-called red and blue states, an outcome directly traceable to the urban-rural division of our society. This is something of a simplification, but food producers and their social allies tend to vote red and food consumers and their social allies tend to vote blue. The division is thought to be between conservative and liberal philosophies, but it much more reflects the difference between rural and urban values,” said Gene Logsdon.

There are two real challenges within the sustainability movement:

1) Consumers’ decisions (especially with food) are splintered by: A) Convenience, B) Tradition, C) Bias, and D) Beliefs.
2) Industry’s “manufactured demand” is affecting consumers with: A) Deceptive advertising, B) Ambiguous terminology, C) Perfectly designed plastic convenience packaging sealing our addictive lifestyles.

The minute we wake up we are subjected to an eco-plastic, part of this complete breakfast, 100% edible, industrialized high fructose corn syrup, brand campaign. Industrialized conveyor belts are pumping out a marketing product of starch coated with refined sugar. We can reignite our camaraderie by producing fruits, vegetables, animals and vehicles that not only compete, but surpass, our current available choices; all sponsored of course by our very green desire for sustainability. Incidentally, the average number of ‘green’ products per store almost doubled between 2007 and 2008. Green advertising almost tripled between 2006 and 2008. Does this necessarily mean we are heading in the right direction?

Governmental regulations for consumer protection in industrial food processing plants have only added to an already over stressed food system. This industrialized hyper-efficiency has caused diseases in animals and bugs on crops that have been taken so far out of their natural ecosystem that they can no longer produce without heavy use of antibiotics and pesticides. These measures, of course, were designed to keep us safe, but instead have become another major concern since “packaged nourishment” comes from the industrialized, often treated, food system.

The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, is largely considered to be the first creative activist endeavor within the food production industry. Its revelations of horrors and regulatory failures in Chicago's meatpacking plants resulted in direct laws that govern food processing in the United States to this day.

Creatives are beginning to find and tell the stories concerning the overly subsidized and industrialized food and distribution system which favors use of pesticides and antibiotics. Since the government historically is not very good at spearheading movements, artists (media pioneers, authors) and social entrepreneurs will continue to fill this leadership role. We don’t have to look far to see powerful results. Thank the documentary filmmakers of Food Inc., Supersize Me, HomeGrown, The Future of Food, Story of Stuff, and Bottled Water, for helping us become visually aware of how industries have been deceiving consumers and themselves in their interest of greed and everyone’s desire for convenience. But there is hope, and it’s simple. Consumers are communicating online like never before, this leads to uniting together to strategically direct where we spend our hard earned bread and where we plant or raise our own food.

Jamie Oliver’s new TV series, The Food Revolution, has exposed the frozen fat underbelly of pre-packaged (brown and gold) foods, and government charts that officially dictate the clogging of our kids in school. Local and “real” food production and consumption has become a legitimate genre, with universities, and high schools requiring reading of titles like Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma, Bill McKibben’s Deep Economy, among others. These authors are helping us move past intellectual reasoning and into action. Since Timothy Ferrass taught us how to achieve a four hour work week, some of us among the fortunate now have the extra time to plant some seeds, water, and grow great big vegetables, and share them with our friends and neighbors.

I believe that in the next decade we will see less of an emphasis on extrinsic, materialistic values and more on intrinsic, spiritual values. This shift in emphasis will begin to bear fruit with the collaborative grafting between creative media pioneers and social entrepreneurs who seek to disrupt the status-quo. Research from San Francisco State University has shown that experiences bring people more happiness than material possessions. Experiences shared with others continue to provide even greater happiness through memories long after the event occurred. I believe many social entrepreneurs and creative media pioneers, in their hearts, believe their core purpose is to encourage our return to a sustainable world ecosystem. In other words, many will forgo Hummer-sized riches in order to nurture the successful adoption of their creations into society. There remains however ambiguity in the complexity that lies between the producer and the consumer. The ancient system of distribution gives middlemen the leverage to manipulate both producers and consumers. This too is evolving, as producers return to their roots and begin to distribute locally. There is change in the air, spring is coming.

We are at such a nascent stage in the evolution of the sustainable movement. The infrastructure necessary for the modern city to relocate to the farm is exorbitant, but the farm is beginning to integrate into the metropolis, one yard at a time. ‘Off the grid’ produces many wonderful connotations. It is an adventurous subject, one that I’m convinced will help propel this branding conversation forward. I wonder who else is discussing the connections of the ideas from this article, and from the authors and media pioneers mentioned? Who are the artisans, and social entrepreneurs that are working on this? Very curious about your thoughts. Please don’t hesitate to email me, and please act.

Let’s continue to find new ways to unify this brand with wonderful heart felt stories about the adventures of locally produced products, urban farms, and sustainability.

Writing this has given me a renewed appreciation for early American Indian cave drawn stories of food: adventure, and victory. There is more there than I had imagined.

Matthew Phillips is a media producer, writer and technologist working in Los Angeles, CA. He is the producer of Threshing.
***************** covers science and technology in entertainment, media and advertising. Hire our consulting company for creative content development.

Follow us on Twitter and our Facebook fan page. Subscribe to free email notifications of new posts on our home page.

One thought on “Earth Day Guest Article: Plastic Beads and Sugar Water”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *