Advertising Is Garbage

ED garbage duratrans

Part of the Earth Day campaign. (Before I proofread it, obvs.) More below.

So a lot has happened since I was here last. Michael Cohen. Rudy Giuliani. Scott Pruitt’s hearing. Eric Schneiderman’s bitch-slapping. And a porn star’s lawyer who makes more sense than any of ’em.

In better news, California (where I am currently, hanging out with my parents) will now require all new homes to have solar power. I just did a quick search for other good news, but it’s mostly boring stuff. Donald Glover’s (aka Childish Gambino) This Is America video is pretty cool.

Oh, I also did a couple of fun performances. (Here’s one of them.)

And Earth Day happened. Dunno who besides me really cares about that, but I had to get away from my computer, and into the woods . . .


Plant-based hike.

So I went to Queens. Where I “hiked” with two Columbia friends through Forest Park, to the soothing sounds of the Jackie Robinson Parkway, after we’d eaten the vegan quiche I’d made, and pounded a few Bloody Marys around my friend’s kitchen table.

Because it had been a crazy coupl’a weeks.

Remember the Earth Day pitch I made to the CEO? (Refresh your memory HERE.)


Plant-based brunch.

Did I mention it was for one of the top ad agencies in the world? Pretty sure I didn’t. When I last wrote about it, the CEO of said ad agency had just referred me to the CFO and the building architecture person (the latter is the one who oversaw getting the place LEED-certified when the agency moved into it; dunno who besides me [and her] cares about that). Public Relations was at the meeting, too. They all loved it.

Then things got a little . . . weird.

My M.O. with this pitch was to make people care. To, yeah, get them to stop throwing their banana peels into the recycling bin in the Xerox room, and to maybe think about not using a single-use plastic lid to cover the single-use plastic bowl for the 3 minutes it takes to carry their salad from the cafeteria back to their desk. I was maybe even gonna try to get everybody a set of IKEA stainless steel flatware, or coffee mugs so we could put an end to — or at least reduce — the 30,000 single-use cups used there every week.

Every WEEK.

paper cup

(NOT recyclable, peeps.)

And ask me how many people don’t know that those single-use coffee cups aren’t recyclable. (The answer is all the people. No one seems to know they’re lined with a plastic product.)

Anyway, I think getting people to actually change their behavior is to give them a damn good reason to. A personal one. The environmental movement is not about birds and bunnies (as Obama-era EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy put it, during a speech I saw her give at Columbia). The environmental movement is about people. (And I’ll return to Ms. McCarthy another time, because she is awesome, not to mention hilarious.)

I wanted our Earth Day messaging to include something about what climate change is REALLY doing. The particular harm it has on people of color; the loss of coastal cities here as well as elsewhere; the increase in infectious disease; a rise in political conflicts — stuff like that. The intent is not to freak people out, but to connect their specific actions to a bigger picture. To inspire them by educating them — in a cool, interesting way.

So I found a creative team at the agency, and hooked up with them. Which started out great.


Me and another volunteer manually turning compost over, in the interest of society, dang it.

Let me pause here for a sec, and say that I’ve thought a lot about why people don’t make more sustainable choices — i.e., why they don’t do more to conserve our planet’s limited resources. And I’ve come up with some pretty good reasons (based on my super-official one-person anecdotal study) for those moments when someone chooses to buy a single-serving plastic bottle of Poland Springs water, or a little pint of blueberries shipped all the way from Chile (hi, can you say “carbon footprint”?), rather than acting in the interest of society at large.

I’ve boiled it down to 3 general reasons:

  1. LAZINESS. Or in scientific terms, energy conservation, which is one-third of our innate “motivational triad.”
  2. DETACHMENT. Which ranges from a lack of knowledge to deep denial.
  3. ENTITLEMENT. “I deserve it.” Or “I have to.” “Someone else can conserve.”


You know about the Motivational Triad? The 40-second video at left shows how all animals, from sharks to Labrador retrievers to your mom, operate on three basic instincts:

  • PLEASURE SEEKING (originally in the form of food — to survive — and sex — to further the species)
  • ENERGY CONSERVATION (to make sure the food fuels us for as long as possible)
  • PAIN AVOIDANCE (again, to stay alive, rather than, say, burning yourself with fire*)

*(Unless you’re burning yourself up on purpose, like advocate David Buckel did last month, apparently to call attention to protecting the environment. Pretty shocking, esp since I met him once when I volunteered one muggy spring day at the Red Hook Composting Center, where he worked. That’s him below in the brown t-shirt and hat, after we shoveled hundreds of pounds of decomposing food scraps. Crazy, right?**)
**(Not the scrap shoveling; the setting himself on fire.)


Anyway, the first side of the motivational triad, pleasure seeking, is pretty self-evident when it comes to over-using resources to feed ourselves. “I just love me some South American blueberries!” (Despite the shipping + packaging.) “I want a frappuccino, and I want to carry it around in a single-use cup and lid with a plastic straw, dammit.” (Despite plastic pollution + tree reduction — ’cause you gotta have a cardboard sleeve wrapped around it so your hand doesn’t get cold.)

Looking for sex, love and validation is also part of pleasure seeking. Because nobody needs an Italian leather handbag (animal agriculture land use + shipping) or a Range Rover (auto emissions) to survive . . . unless it’s to attract a mate, or to be accepted (and thereby protected) by the tribe.***
***(It’s weird how our reptile brains are programmed to create future generations, but we aren’t programmed to think much about what happens to them after we’re gone.****)
****(So many asterisks!)

Energy conservation covers more territory than you may think. “I just can’t with carrying a water bottle around all day.” “What do you want me to do, take . . . the stairs??” “If I use a mug instead of a paper cup, I’ll have to wash it.” “Subway? At this hour? I’m getting an Uber.” Even reading a sign about where to throw something away takes energy. It does.

Pain avoidance looks like, “I’m schvitzing. Can we turn on the A/C?” Or “I can’t wear that! I’ll be the laughing stock of the whole school!” (Avoiding emotional pain is just as powerful . . . hence, addiction and the opioid crisis.)


The fine print. Oops!!

We good on the motivational triad? All that is to say is that we’re dealing with our primal instincts here. Aaaand guess who noticed the other night while making dinner that the fresh peas she’d bought came from . . . Guatemala! (The answer is me.)

Let’s move on to my second theory for doing shit like buying foreign-born legumes: DETACHMENT. There are myriad reasons why people can be detached from environmental issues: A lack of education or understanding of their own impact. An occupation with more immediate needs (say, making rent and feeding your kids). Or just plain ol’ denial.

(Ironically, I think the word “environmental” itself can be disconnecting, and would like to re-brand the whole dang thing. I’d mentioned that in my Earth Day pitch at the office.)

My “detachment” theory also covers the “IBGYBG” mentality — “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone.” The Urban Dictionary defines IBGYBG as “what douchebag hedge fund managers say to each other when they create an investment mechanism that makes both of them rich while fucking the American public.” This is also popular among CEOs of big, wasteful corporations. “I’ll retire with my pension and stock, and let the next guy sort it out.”

Which segues into my third basic reason people do crap like buying a few ounces of yogurt in a single-use plastic container with a separate single-use plastic section for the half-ounce of sugary fruit glop, rather than, say, purchasing a large container that holds multiple servings of yogurt and then getting a piece of actual fruit:


Chobani: the enemy of the people?

ENTITLEMENT. A word with icky connotations. But sometimes the word deserves it. “I forgot my water bottle.” “My mug doesn’t keep my coffee warm enough.” (I actually heard this recently at work, but then I shamed the guy into using his damn mug anyway.) “But I like to flip my yogurt.” “But we have to make cars that people will buy.” “I deserve it.” “I’m tired of this one.” “It’s important.” “Just this once.” Or especially: “We have to print out 3 copies of all 47 pages, and then enlarge all of them. Single-sided. We can’t do a proper job of editing it if we don’t.” This one’s also known as “It’s for work,” i.e., “It’s not my fault.”

There’s also a non-icky version of entitlement that’s behind folks behaving like they don’t care. A good chunk of our population in NYC is made of immigrants. Some come from poorer countries; they grew up in a place where they used more sustainable things — cloth bags and bulk food and whatnot — and now they have the luxury of prepackaged and/or single-use items (toss and go). Why the heck would they want to live like they did before?

Those are the reasons I’ve come up with.

But back to my Earth Day campaign.

Deb pink suit.jpg

“Recycled” (i.e., pre-owned) suit.

After I met with some of the C-suite (wearing my pink “pussy power” suit, pictured at left), where I learned the CEO wanted it to roll out nationally (to all our US offices!), I went to an event for International Women’s Day at the agency (which is Ogilvy, if you must know). There were like two dudes there, so I asked ’em what their story was. Turns out one was a young associate creative director.
So I said, “Are you interested in climate change at all?”
And he said, “What? Yeah.”
And I said, “Well, I’m gonna be looking for some creatives to team up with for an Earth Day thing I just pitched to Lou . . . ”
And he said, “No way! Some other creatives and I have been working on something that we actually wanted to do . . . ”

So we teamed up. He introduced me to his account person, I introduced them to the P.R. person, who was a gonna introduce us to the Creative Chief of the agency, and everybody was psyched.

With a national roll-out, we were looking at something BIG. Plus I’d pitched it as a full week leading up to Earth Day, since the day itself was falling on a Sunday this year. Each of the five weekdays could have a theme, like Water, Food, Climate, Money, and People (since there’s nothing like self-preservation to motivate a person).

We would create signage throughout the 11-story building to educate and inspire people. The creatives wanted to make the signs out of reused materials and old ads, which I loved.

They also came up with a provocative campaign concept: Advertising Is Garbage. Calling out how advertising — including digital advertising — uses up planetary resources.

We all wanted to do a big lobby installation piece. At some point I came up with an idea: create floodwater markings on the lobby walls and inside the elevators, showing how high the oceans would rise as global temperatures go up due to climate change. (The building is close to the Hudson River.) The markings would be labeled with corresponding temperature increases, numbers of people affected by each half degree, and so forth.

It took a while, but we finally got hooked up with the Creative Chief. I wasn’t included in the meeting, which sucked. He told the team to come up with something digital, something that could reach beyond the agency, that could have an impact on other agencies — and maybe even other industries. So the creatives went to work on it.

Without me.


What’s wrong with this picture?

I know — I’m being dramatic. I was welcome to come up with ideas on my own. But I started having to fight my way into some of the meetings. And I got an email sent to me by accident that made me feel kinda crappy. Maybe it was ageism. Maybe it was because I didn’t know “Netflix and chill” was a thing. (So embarrassing.) Or maybe it was just hard for all of us to find times to meet while getting our other work done, and everybody was doing their best. So I took the role of SME — an acronym for the fancy corporate title “Subject Matter Expert.” I also liaised with the print production people, Facilities, the cafeteria, etc. (And added the title “Environerd” to my company email signature.)

Sadly, the digital tool the team came up with was a fail — at least for now. And because the team was focused on that, everything else ended up being a big, last-minute scramble. I get it — when you’re a young creative, and the Creative Chief gives you an assignment, you jump.

By the time the campaign was executed, the creatives had produced some nice-looking signage, and — the one actual change: I’d arranged recycling pickup for plastic, glass and metal in the building, after discovering they were only recycling cardboard and paper. (And that’s just the paper that makes it into the bins in the Xerox rooms). The new collection isn’t costing the company anything extra.

Unfortunately, the mugs were cut from the plan, even though they cost less than a month’s worth of paper cups; there was nothing experiential, no lobby takeover, and no climate change. And no money for the extra time I put into researching stuff for the team (although I didn’t do it for the money, per se). But it sure looks cool:

ED garbage tallED garbage verticalED-duratrans1ED-lobbyelevatorED bellyED-elevatorvideoED twitterED-postercolumnED ideas posterED kitchen binsED coffeeED treesED-recyclingbinED stairs videoED binge video

I’m still not sure why the following electronic postcard didn’t get sent out — that and the company-wide e-blast that also went MIA are the few things I can say I wrote:


Now, I have two ways to look at our Earth Day project.

At the debriefing appointment I made with a corporate career counselor, she suggested I “manage my expectations.” Sure, I could winge that it was a toned-down version of my original pitch, that I got nudged out, or that nothing actionable happened (e.g., our coffee mugs), but we learn from our mistakes.

OR I could acknowledge that it was a big baby step in bringing these issues to 1,400 advertising professionals, with a splashy creative execution, and that I now have relationships with the CEO, PR, the head of Facilities, some cool creatives, and a bunch of other people at the agency.

After all that, I needed a little break. So I watched one of the two Congressional hearings of Scott Pruitt, our first-class flying, heavily Secret Security–guarded, designer-glasses-wearing EPA Administrator. (Yeah, I’m weird like that.)

I missed the first hearing of the day, but watched the second one — with the House Appropriations Committee — concerning the EPA’s 2019 budget. It lasted about two hours. It wasn’t so much a “hearing” than a “talking-to.” BTW, here’s a screenshot I took; check out all the single-use plastic water bottles! In an environmental agency hearing. What the hell??


Really, guys? Plastic water bottles? The lady on the lower right, chugging away, is even a Democrat (and was kicking Scott Pruitt’s ass). Pruitt’s on the left (photo-wise, that is).

Shall I do a mini recap of the hearing for my fellow envirodorks? I’ll do it as an 8-point listicle:

1. The characters sound like they’re from an Agatha Christie novel: Mrs. Lowey, Ms. Pingree (apparently an unmarried lady), Mr. Perkins, Betty McCollum . . .

2. For the most part, the Republicans on the committee were men, and the Democrats women. The women were rad:

  • Ms. Pingree of Maine kicked ass on behalf of her lobster farmers (trappers?), telling Pruitt to “get creative” with solutions instead blaming the past administration; and that rolling back decisions is “not the right direction.”
  • Betty McCollum of Minnesota chimed in after the Utah Rep tried to get protection for his state’s aquaphors, and Pruitt tried to dodge the issue by telling him how complex the issues are state-to-state:

Pruitt (to Utah): “Obviously, there’s a difference between Utah and Minnesota — “
Minnesota: “Oh, we’re losing our aquaphors, too, Mr. Pruitt.”
Pruitt: “Yes, we’re committed to that.” (He tends to respond to things that way. “We’re evaluating that.”)
Minnesota: “How?”

  • Mrs. Lowey of New York put it simply: “Mr. Pruitt, I think it’s time you resign.”

Pretty hip specs, Pruitt.

3. As the former Attorney General of Oklahoma, Pruitt was polite, professional. He’s a smooth operator; he pays attention, makes eye contact. Patiently listens. A young woman next to him with a thick binder passes him occasional notes, which he discreetly reads. But mostly he’s pretty well-informed. I try to keep an open mind — I mean, what if we’re wrong about him?

4. The Congresspeople challenged his wanting to dismantle parts of a health bill that keeps study participants anonymous to protect their privacy, and they call his attention to the Great Lakes being overtaken by harmful algae blooms from agricultural run-offs.

5. On the other hand, the Republican Rep. from West Virginia thanked Pruitt on behalf of some of his coal miners, claiming that during Obama’s Presidency, many of them lost their jobs, waited in unemployment lines, etc., etc., and how great it is now (that the mines are being protected?). These guys just refuse to acknowledge that the unemployment rate went down nationally under Obama. And, ya know, the President is the federal guy.

Plus it’s not Obama’s fault that the climate-change-causing, employee-sickening coal industry is failing. If your state’s dirty-energy industry isn’t working anymore, maybe try courting some renewable energy companies? And noticing states like New York, which just announced it’s ending all coal-fired power by 2020.

6. Pruitt’s kinda like Trump in that he’ll pull out a random stat to defend himself that has no bearing on his rollbacks.


K cups — Public Enemy #2

Like this: “80% of the pollution in El Paso is caused by Mexico.” And “Part of the reason for non-attainment [of protecting the ozone] is due to transportative pollution from international sources, like China.” Yes, shipping causes a HUGE chunk of greenhouse gas emissions. And we’re the ones ordering all that crap. So get on it, bro.

And China is SO far ahead of us in their commitment to renewable energy. They’ve also decided they’re no longer taking our recyclables and other waste — that we can deal with them our own damn selves.

7. One thing at the EPA hearing confused me: They kept bringing up “café standards.” I didn’t know why standards at cafés (regulating coffee sizes . . . ?) were such a big deal, environmentally. Turns out they were talking about CAFE — Corporate Average Fuel Economy — Standards, for improving the fuel economy of cars, thereby decreasing auto emissions, and which is one of the many things Pruitt is trying to roll back.

8. All this is why we have a government. To write and pass laws that protect us from our own lazy, ignorant, entitled, human selves — from our own instincts run riot. We need this government to do its job.



Let’s wrap this baby up for now, but before I go (speaking of governors) I saw Andrew Cuomo speak last week at the NY League of Conservation Voters Gala. Great speech — super funny at the beginning, then really informative (the only time he referred to notes), with an emotional ending. I was impressed. And I got to chat with one of my local heroes, my NY House Rep. Jerry Nadler.


My view of Cuomo.

As for David Buckel: I asked my compost guy at the farmer’s market about him. He said a lot people in their community felt like what he doing at the urban farm was far more valuable than publicly torching himself in the name of the cause. I’m guessing he was really discouraged about the political climate, and became hopeless — that what he was doing just wasn’t helping, given the damage being done to our habitat by those much more powerful than us. I relate.

But I’ll end with something uplifting from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Yeah — if we keep up the resistance. And the actioning, and enlightening, and bad-assing, and truth-telling, and show-up’ing. Who’s with me? Tell me here in the comments.

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One thought on “Advertising Is Garbage

  1. Pingback: It’s Earth Day, bitches. | Citizen Deb

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