Friday, February 12th, 2010

“Green Police” Capture Unfair Biases But Miss the Truth

President's Post

Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a big fan of the Indianapolis Colts. But it wasn’t the New Orleans Saints victory over my hometown team in the Super Bowl that upset me the most last Sunday evening. No, what got me miffed was that preachy “Green Police” Audi commercial that I saw during the fourth quarter. (See Barry Eisenberg’s blog post for the details on the ad and why our industry was not amused.) 

A splashy ad that paints plastics with a broad “environmentally unfriendly” brush gets me riled up because it places a premium on being funny rather than true. The “Green Police” ad reinforces the same tired and, frankly, ignorant biases against plastics that my SPI team and I have been trying to educate people about since I became president of the association.  In 2008 and 2009 combined I personally gave about 50 presentations seen by approximately 10,000 people that centered on how plastics contribute to a more sustainable world. But in one fell 60-second swoop, more than 100 million people saw an ad that preyed on preconceived notions of plastics. (According to the Nielsen Co., more than 106 million people watched the Super Bowl, making it the most-watched program in U.S. television.)

But unfair bias works both ways and I believe the ad also magnified the negative perceptions people have about environmentalists being crazy extremists. The New York Times called the Audi ad a “misguided spot that put the ‘mental’ in ‘environmental.’”  Scott Cooney, author of Build a Green Small Business:  Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur, writes that the Audi ad:

…quickly turned into yet another perhaps well-intentioned ad that casts environmentalists, frankly, as wack-jobs… Perhaps the most offensive, to those of us in the sustainability movement was where an army of “Green Police,” prowling through people’s trash, finds a battery and storms the house of the offender. While I suppose the ad execs who came up with it thought they were brilliant, I would only imagine most in the sustainability movement, like me, groaned at the implication that people who care about the environment are psychotic enough to prosecute people who choose plastic at the grocery store or don’t compost their scraps.  Ugh, Middle America just took another unneeded step away from feeling that sustainability is cool, easy, and normal.

I’ve worked in the plastics industry for more than 20 years and I am so proud of the innovative contributions our industry has made to the automobile industry. That’s why Audi’s ad leaves many of us industry veterans feeling as if we’ve been slapped in the face by a loved one. ”Truth in Engineering” is the name of the advertising campaign Audi launched in 2007 and it is the tag line at the end of the “Green Police ” ad.  I wish Audi had given “Truth in Advertising” equal billing.

Tuesday, December 1st, 2009

The Rise and Fall (and Rebirth?) of Science Journalism

On December 3rd in Atlanta, SPI’s Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Packaging Materials Committee (FDCPMC) will join media analysts and officials from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in taking on one of the greatest challenges currently facing the plastics industry, consumers and the regulatory agencies that seek to protect human and environmental health while promoting innovation: The misreporting and intentional distortion of science in the news media.

There are all manner of booksweb sites, reportscolumns and more web sites devoted to this topic. Prompted in part by CNN‘s decision one year ago to cut  its entire space, science and environment unit, the World Federation of Science Journalists hosted a press briefing  in February titled, “Is Science Journalism in Crisis?

Reporting on science has suffered a marked decline in quality, accuracy and breadth of coverage in recent years for a variety of reasons, many of them economic and political.  Under competition from Internet sources like blogs and online videos, science journalists are often the first to be laid off from traditional news organizations. We’re left with journalists who have little or no science background doing their best to write the occasional science story, often using the very blogs and online videos that are competing for their jobs to drum up hot stories. Instead they should be turning directly to the scientific community and the peer-reviewed journals for science stories.  Unfortunately, the blogosphere and the online video channels, and by extension the journalism that relies on them, are rife with unreliable information and scientific claims of questionable origin.

The end result is that the public is often fed misinformation from trusted media outlets that misinterpret or, worse still, intentionally misuse scientific studies to put out sensational stories.  The danger is that society can be led to divert significant time and money away from serious problems to issues that the most rigorous science available suggests are of comparatively low concern for the health and well-being of people and planet.

Consumers can also be put at risk by news stories that direct them to choose certain products on the basis of poorly designed or biased scientific studies.  Instead of making well-informed product choices and having a reasoned discourse on critical issues like consumer health, the global environment and the efficacy of our regulatory agencies, we’re all busy trading narratives manufactured by struggling media outlets and agenda pushers.

A recent editorial in Nature decried the decline in science journalism and challenged scientists to step up and fill the void directly by blogging and sharing their research through channels that are more accessible to the public than peer-reviewed academic journals.

Those gathered in Atlanta for the FDCPMC Winter Conference will examine ways that they, too, can get involved in correcting misinformation in the news media. Perhaps one way is by helping reporters without scientific backgrounds gain access to clear, easy-to-understand, sound science on the issues they are covering.  Conference attendees will explore the roles that industry, the research community, the regulatory agencies and media watchdogs can play in ensuring that the public receives the full story and can make educated decisions about the products they use, the materials they trust, and the policies they support.  Everyone stands to gain when people are empowered to make decisions based on the best information available.

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

SPI Members: Thanks to You, It Works

I saw a sign at the car wash the other day that pretty well summed up what a lot of us at SPI feel:

“In our haste to provide you with exceptional value and service we may sometimes forget to say THANK-YOU. Please know that we never take your loyalty and support for granted.”

To some it might sound corny, but I found it to be a very effective sign. (Certainly more effective than this one.)

In these times, nothing rings more true than sincere expressions of appreciation. The contributions that our member companies make go far beyond the income they provide through dues. The value of their time and dedication to our industry projects and programs is invaluable and something that all of us consider immeasurably important.

Speaking for the Machinery and Moldmakers Divisions, I know firsthand that safety standards could not be written, industry statistics could not be collected, and other projects vital to the industry never started without the volunteers who serve on the committees who drive them. Having spent more than 24 years with the SPI, I know that NPE, our Industry Group conferences and other events would not be run so smoothly and successfully without volunteers on committees. Likewise, our public policy advocacy effort would not be as fine-tuned or infused with a grassroots voice if not for our committee volunteers and other active individuals. Even our communications and marketing would struggle for a message without member input via committee.

In short, everything we do, everything we are is because of the members who volunteer to serve on our committees. In our haste to provide members with exceptional value and service, we may occasionally forget to say “thank you,” but we never take them for granted.

Friday, January 16th, 2009

Chicago Tribune Publishes SPI’s Response to “Life Without Plastics”

tribuneOn December 30th, we posted here about the Chicago Tribune article called “a life without plastics,” which chronicles a reporter and her family as they attempt to live one week without plastic. As we stated before, the article is misinformed and disregards the fact that the benefits of plastics go beyond packaging to impact every aspect of modern life. The online version of the article did yield a healthy exchange of ideas — many with excellent points about all that plastics contribute to modern society — in the section of readers’ online comments.

We want to add a follow-up: SPI President Bill Carteaux’s official letter to the editor was published by the Tribune on January 14. “There are good and practical reasons why plastic is so prevalent as the material of choice — benefits that are not always readily apparent,” reads one section of the letter. “Our member companies continue to work within the existing regulatory architecture to insure that products made from plastics are safe. Additionally, our industry has a keen interest, and is already highly involved, in becoming more sustainable and we are eager to engage with consumers and talk openly with them about our products.”

To the left you can see the letter as it appeared in the print edition of the newspaper. To read the complete letter more easily, click here and then scroll down.

Tuesday, January 13th, 2009

Plastics News ’09 Goals for Industry Echo SPI Initiatives

I am delighted to report that SPI is addressing, in one way or another, each of the 10 goals that Plastics News has put forth in its bold manifesto: “’09 Goal’s for the Plastics Industry” (Viewpoint, 01-05-09). In fact, it might be reasonable to assume the editors put the list together by consulting the SPI Web site or our membership brochure. Most likely, they did not. Some of us at SPI thought they interviewed SPI President Bill Carteaux for his input. But they did not do that either. The goals do look extremely familiar since they touch upon many of our existing programs AND are already in motion by SPI at the direction of our membership. First take a look at the list, and then read on…

New and exciting SPI initiatives already up and running include our commitment to promoting sustainability in the plastics industry – which Plastics News wrote about in June. We even co-sponsored Sustain ’08 with Plastics News in November, and our sustainability push is carried through on our blog, in videos and in the numerous presentations Bill Carteaux makes around the world. Additionally, NPE 2009 will feature sustainability as a part of the multi-faceted education track.

The research phase of our Consumer Outreach Initiative – also written about in Plastics News – was just completed and implementation will soon begin on a multi-faceted online media campaign to promote the benefits of plastics to Millennials, policymakers and industry employees.

Some goals are being addressed through long-standing programs: the SPI-OSHA Alliance and annual SPI Safety Statistics and Awards Program; statistical reports such as Size and Impact of the Plastics Industry on the U.S. Economy, Global Business Trends, and the Committee on Equipment Statistics Annual & Quarterly Reports; and the on-going work of our International Trade, Government Affairs, and Industry Group committees and staff.

Plastics News would also like our industry to speak with a unified voice in 2009. Not only does SPI represent every facet of the plastics industry via the Industry Groups of our Equipment, Processor, Material Supplier and Bioplastics Councils, but both Bill Carteaux and Steve Russell, managing director of the American Chemistry Council’s Plastics Division, enjoy a strong relationship and are mutually committed to having a unified industry. The joint Plastics Ambassadors Program – which mobilizes companies and their employees to promote the benefits of plastics and plastics recycling within their communities — is a recent manifestation of this alliance. (Plastics News wrote about this in September.) In addition, Carteaux is now acting secretary general of the Council of International Plastics Associations Directors (CIPAD), which represents 64 plastics association directors acting in 49 countries from five continents. CIPAD is staffed by SPI.

We look forward to Plastics News’ continued coverage of these SPI initiatives, as well as to its own contributions toward the industry’s achievements in 2009.