Is PR speaking for Mother Earth? Louder, please!

Everyone who teaches public relations at some point talks about PR’s “boundary-spanning role.”

Simply put, it means that PR people live with one foot inside the thetable.jpgorganization and one foot outside — in the world of our key publics/stakeholders. When we sit down at that chiché called “Management’s Table,” we’re supposed to act as advocates for those key publics while also communicating our organization’s perspective to them.

It’s stressful living in two worlds, and conflicts of interest are inevitable. But if you don’t feel pangs of conscience while seated at The Table, you’re not doing your job. You’re simply doing management’s bidding.

Maybe it’s tree-hugger values that drive me, but I’m careful to remind students of their duty to advocate for the planet, too — to count Mother Earth among our stakeholders. She is, after all, our strategic partner in everything we do. And, sadly, she has few at The Table speaking on her behalf.

I’m wondering if PR people were at The Table at the GladWare division of Clorox or the Ziploc division of S. C. gladware.jpgJohnson when those companies dreamed up “disposable food storage containers.” It happened back in the late 1990s, but the explosive growth of this product niche — now a $1.4-billion business — is the subject of an AP wire story today.

And guess what? Nowhere in that 900-word story is there a single landfill.jpgmention of the recycling issue, and not a single mention of the tons of crap these containers add to the waste stream once they’re used a few times and discarded. The story is all about convenience in a throwaway culture (yet another chiché).

To ensure fairness, I ran a search on GladWare and found quite a few stories and blog posts touting the product as GOOD for the environment. Disposable plastic a good thing? In a way it is, since these multi-use containers can reduce our dependence on single-use packaging — products like GladBags and GladWrap.

In Australia, Glad makes a visible effort to address environmental issues, but if you read carefully, its website offers more apologies than it does solutions. But at least it makes an attempt. The U.S. site for GladWare makes not a single mention of trash or recyling issues, nor do the site’s FAQs address the issue.

Are we such a self-centered society that convenience must always trump conservation? Are we so customer-driven, so bottom-line focused that we don’t consider our impact on the planet? Or have I just hugged too many trees?

Answers to the first two questions are becoming painfully obvious. How else do explain the Hummer? And for number 3, yeah, that’s bark on the front of my shirt.

It’s probably unfair to beat up on Glad and Ziploc. The world has plenty of one-use containers that are worse polluters, like disposable diapers, or anything WalMart sells in a bubble pack.

But it was GladWare and Ziploc that stepped into my business page this morning touting convenience and disposability. And as we all know, timing is everything in this business.

As I look in the “plastics” cabinet at my own house, I see a couple of GladWare containers. But I also see two dozen Tupperware and Rubbermaid tubs, some more than 20 years old and still eager to store my leftovers.

kermit.jpg This post could easily turn into an anti-business, pro-environmental rant. But I’ll stop here and turn my conclusion over to one of our most influential teachers of youth.

Kermit the Frog would be a great PR pro and a courageous boundary spanner. You see, Kermit knows “it ain’t easy bein’ green.” That’s chiché number 3.

5 Responses to Is PR speaking for Mother Earth? Louder, please!

  1. stacy evans says:

    i think you came up with some very good points. i like where you were going with this, and i don’t understand why this country is so focused on disposability. Will it really hurt people to wash their tupperware? probably, since this day and age is so lazy. However, I do have to add….as I was at my parents this weekend, I noticed my mother’s cupboard, and the many gladware containers she has that have clearly been reused. Let’s hope the rest of the country catches on to the fact these items can be reused and not just by being melted down and reshaped.

  2. Bill Sledzik says:

    Thanks for your thoughts, Stacy. As I noted, it’s a bit unfair to beat up on GladWare just because the product was the focus of a business story. Other products are worse. And yes, the containers are reusable. But GladWare and its Ziploc counterpart have carved out their market niche based on disposability. They tout it — and it’s working. That’s my concern, and it’s the same as yours…that we have a culture that’s so attuned to use-and-toss. No one seems at all concerned about this issue anymore.

  3. Blair Boone says:

    Disposable? I run ’em through the top rack of the dishwasher. When they finally wear out, I’ll bully the recycling truck into taking them. BTW, I got mine with leftovers and the admonition to chuck ’em when I was done with them. And I will — when I’m done with them.

  4. Bill Sledzik says:

    Blair,

    A line from this post should have signaled me to pull back: “It’s probably unfair to beat up on Glad and Ziploc. The world has plenty of one-use containers that are worse polluters, like disposable diapers, or anything WalMart sells in a bubble pack.”

    But I beat on them anyway. And it WAS unfair. Admitting it doesn’t let me off the hook, but at least it sets the record straight. I had good intentions when that AP story touting “disposables” set me off. We are a wasteful lot. I had reservations even before I clicked the “publish” button. Should have listened to them.

    I still prefer those old Tupperware and Rubbermaid tubs, and my wife tells me most of them she got as shower gifts, not 20, but 30 years ago. Clearly they hold up way, way longer than the “disposables,” (not unlike my wife!). But it does piss me off when I leave one somewhere and have to fetch it. Not so with GladWare.

  5. […] holiday.But what I begin to think about was its more of a trend than just a editorial subject. Being green has been the pin point for many companies, celebrities and projects for sometime […]

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