Every Little Hurts…

Tesco's 'flights for lights' promotion - every little hurts!

Tesco’s ‘flights for lights’ promotion – every little hurts!

Supermarket’s offer of air miles in exchange for low-energy light bulbs is like giving away a pack of Benson and Hedges with every Nicorette patch.

Tesco Advert - Turn Lights into Flights.

Tesco Advert - Turn Lights into Flights.

as written by Ed Gillespie on the Guardian Blog recently;

I’m an optimist. And not because, as the cynics would have it, I’m actually a pessimist who’s not in possession of all the facts. And despite the apocalyptic and increasingly shrill science that flows like glacial meltwater from the world’s climatologists, my optimism remains.

Then I spot something that makes my head explode with eye-popping disbelief at its stupidity. This happened on Saturday when a colleague showed me the latest Tesco ad “Turn lights into flights”. Yes, you read that correctly.

Tesco chief executive Terry Leahy is now offering air miles when you buy a low energy lightbulb. What next? Free packet of 20 Benson & Hedges with every Nicorette patch? A dozen king-size Mars bars with each box of Ryvita? Talk about counter-productive. It’s like being lost in the desert, miles from anywhere and eating your own legs to sustain yourself during your search for help.

The idea of everyone ‘doing a little’ and it somehow, in contravention of the laws of physics, ‘making a big difference’ has already been deftly and delightfully dismissed by my good friend George Marshall. And the recent furore on Daily Mail Island over the disastrously delayed demise of the incandescent bulb is similarly loony. Swapping the odd lightbulb or two is one of the simplest, least inconvenient things we might expect people to do in tackling climate change, but still the islanders practically have an aneurysm. Giving away air miles to incentivise the lightbulb swap just beggars belief.

And herein lies the problem. We’re still being lied to in regard to what really needs to be done. As Green Party MEP Caroline Lucas said the other week: “Did Wilberforce ask people to cut down from two slaves to one? Or Emmeline Pankhurst politely suggest that husbands might consult their wives before going out to vote?.” We need sweeping changes to our carbon emissions, not tweaks. And we’re all in denial. Not only are we convinced that we’re already ‘doing our bit’, with relatively inconsequential things like refusing offers of plastic bags, we’re actively hostile towards doing more as a result. Our willingness to act is inversely proportional to the impacts of our actions, like donating to a seal protection charity while swanning around in a freshly clubbed, still bleeding pelt.

Advertisers are complicit with government in this deception. Tesco’s ad may be crass but it’s not alone and reeks of greenwash, a growing phenomenon that Futerra (where I work) helped to expose last year in a Greenwash Guide and which Fred Pearce has also entertainingly focused on. The hugely expensive Honda splash that ran across eleven consecutive pages of Saturday’s Guardian (generating so much advertising revenue it produced a fawning article in its own right) also focuses on lots of “little dos”. What it didn’t mention is their negligible impact, even when massively multiplied. My favourite piece of inadvertent anti-greenwash is still an ad by Turkish Airlines, however, that boasted the strapline “We are changing the skies”. Indeed.

Every little hurts (and we seem to enjoy it).

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Posted by

Chris Wareham