Tuesday, April 28, 2009

From the Bureau of Useless Statistics




I’m all for the “greening” of America. Really. I recycle. I use cloth bags when I go food shopping [love them btw!]. I don’t leave my car running for 45 minutes to warm it up on cold winter mornings – and I’m all for any idea that will save energy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.

However, I must protest the latest trend from the television networks and advertisers who are using useless statistics to sell products or convince people to go green[er].

It’s great to give people facts, but they have to actually make some sense. For instance, recently while watching one of my favorite shows I saw a PSA featuring well-known actress [I don’t recall the exact wording of the commercial which is why I’m being vague]. The actress explained how something simple [like turning off lights etc] could essentially save millions of dollars ‘enough to wipe out the credit card debt of’ a huge number of people.

I thought, how absurd a statistic is that? If I shut my lights off I might lower my electric bill by a few cents. And if everyone shuts their lights off, they might lower power usage by a considerable amount, but I don’t see the power companies sending checks out to thousands of people to help pay off their credit card bills with that saved money. In fact, I have heard of power companies INCREASING rates in order to make up for falling energy usage. So technically if I use less power, my power company will make less profit, thus forcing them to raise my bill anyway. No money to pay off credit cards then.

Another commercial for a national retail store encourages people to buy larger boxes of cereal, with the hook that if everyone bought a double box of cereal, thousands of pounds of cardboard [and hence trees] could be saved each year. It sounds like it makes sense, but think about it. The cereal company is still going to make the smaller boxes of cereal because it makes them more profit to sell two small boxes of cereal than to sell one large economy size box of cereal. While they might produce fewer small boxes of cereal if people actually bought fewer small boxes of cereal, the money they saved on cardboard for that brand would not translate into less cardboard being used overall, it would translate into the company coming up with another product for which they could use that cardboard.

Useless statistics.

If you want people to shut off their lights [or buy a bigger box of cereal] tell them: if you shut off your lights, you will save money on your electric bill. If you buy a bigger box of cereal you will spend less in the grocery store. People will respond to that, but they won’t respond to the idea that shutting off their lights will help thousands of people get out of credit card debt. It won’t. Buying a bigger box of cereal won’t save trees, it will just free up some cardboard for the cereal company to use in some other way.

Have you heard of any useless statistics? Have you heard a “go green” PSA that made you change your habits significantly?

3 comments:

Kate Willoughby said...

I can't remember any specific go green statistics, but I can say I'm tired of the entire green movement. You know, I love the earth as much as the next person, and I do my part. But I'm tired of being hit over the head with it everywhere I turn. It reminds me of the anti-bacterial trend when everything under the sun was anti-bacterial. My grocery store even has antibacterial wipes you can use on your cart handles. Gimme a break. I just wash my hands when I get home. They always have raw meat juice on them anyway. There just always has to be some Grand Cause/Bandwagon. If you Do This, you are a good person or a healthier person. Which is, generally, crap.

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Again, I blame the media for turning everything into a bandwagon issue. It's the same thing with dieting, parenting, everything. If you're not doing 150% to be perfect, you're not doing enough.

Jen said...

A really funny commercial for oil heat on the radio this morning -- it was two women who were basically in competition to prove who led a "greener" life.