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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Commodifying Earth Day

posted by on April 22 at 10:54 AM

It’s Earth Day. Who wants processed chicken soup?


From the label:

By letting you add the water at home, we can make the cans smaller, which saves a lot of metal, and lighter, which saves fuel when bringing it to your local store shelf.

Please, for one day, try to forget Campbell’s plastic packaging of its non-condensed soup.


The green-label can is available exclusively at the earth liberation bunker known as WalMart. If you want to know why I was there, it was because I was purchasing a pair of sexist, anorexic, drunken, corporate, made-in-China pajamas.

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Only some of Campbell's products have any green cred, and until they are all perfect, I'll attack them. Same with Wal-Mart. Where did I just read about how unhelpful it is to demand God-like perfection?

I think the reason hippies want environmentalism to remain a fringe movement is so they can be the big frogs in a small pond.

Posted by elenchos | April 22, 2008 11:10 AM

Elenchos. For the past few weeks I've been writing about the environmentally progressive work of architecture and development firms--hardly small-pond hippies. But, you gotta admit, marketing highly processed products with the Earth Day name at WalMart is more than a little ironic. It's funny. Lighten up.

Posted by Dominic Holden | April 22, 2008 11:18 AM

I like how they pretend they "made" the can small, as if it hasn't been small for decades? I'm sure the small can always had everything to do with the environment and nothing to do with Campbell's profits.

Posted by w7ngman | April 22, 2008 11:21 AM

@3 that's the part that cracked me up, too. thanks for loving the earth enough not to include water too much in your soup cans!

the not-so-funny thing about it is that this seems to be a common trend in advertising. instead of doing something new, or something greener, on earth day, a company slaps on a green label and boasts about something they've already been doing, and something that they've been doing for a profit motive, not a green one.

it's good that more people are thinking green, and starting to take small steps. but we need greater change, not small steps that might not even be steps at all.

Posted by infrequent | April 22, 2008 11:31 AM

Yep. Non-step. Designing and printing the label was probably even worse for the environment than simply using the old label.

Posted by w7ngman | April 22, 2008 11:35 AM

Of course, if you just chose to make your own locally grown lentil soup (non-meat) at home, you would have helped the environment much more than eating chicken soup.

But it wouldn't be as good for the flu/cold.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 22, 2008 11:42 AM

That WAS funny Dominic. I almost want one just for the irony of it all. :)

Posted by arduous | April 22, 2008 12:02 PM

Um, no.

I mean, yes, obviously, it can seem ironic. But THE WHOLE POINT of Earth Day was to move environmentalism to the mainstream. So every time you find an example of the idea seeping into the dominant culture, it isn't really ironic. It is an increment of the success of the the entire project.

Ironic would be environmentalists congratulating themselves that they are the only ones hip enough to get it, because that would in fact be failure.

I should also mention that the old condensed Campbell's soup in the small cans is sold alongside a lot of new hippy dippy organic brands in big cans that are not condensed. Campbell's is right to point out that these new products are probably worse for the environment than the old stand by, even if the big cans have branding that oozes the vibe simple, natural, small-scale and local.

Posted by elenchos | April 22, 2008 12:49 PM

No, I'm with Dom on this one. It is ironic, because it is claiming to be one thing but it clearly isn't. The only thing fresh and "eco" about that can is the writing on the label. Campbell's is doing nothing ecologically there, but they're trying to get credit for it.

Put a green label on your same old same old is the very essence of not-green.

Posted by Fnarf | April 22, 2008 1:01 PM

Of course it's great when massive corporations take steps to reduce their environmental impact. But has Campbell's done that? If so, it's not apparent from the copy on the label. It seems that Campbell's is capitalizing on the same old product they've always sold by wrapping it in the Earth Day name. That's not to say it's bad reason to buy condensed soup, but this isn't a victory for Earth Day, it's a victory for Campbell's for commodifying Earth Day to justify selling the same old products.

Posted by Dominic Holden | April 22, 2008 1:04 PM

Like polishing a turd with green spray-paint. Making the cans smaller because you want to save the planet my ass.

But seriously, I can agree with elenchos that yes, this is evidence, however trite it may be, that environmentalism is seeping in to the mainstream. Of course, it comes in the form of hollow corporate sloganeering, but they wouldn't choose this marketing tactic if consumers weren't clamoring for "green" products in the first place.

Posted by Hernandez | April 22, 2008 1:11 PM

elenchos is right, green is mainstream. should we be happy is the watered-heavy-in-a-big-can version that is being stocked and sold?

Posted by infrequent | April 22, 2008 1:17 PM

OK, OK. They haven't done anything. They've sacrificed nothing. This is true.

But again, isn't it hairshirt environmentalism that thinks you have to have suffered in some way before you get any credit for doing good? It's a kind of Catholic guilt or something.

Many good green practices are nothing more than giving up new, complex ways of doing things in favor of simpler methods.

Campbell's does not actually claim they went to some expense here. What their message says is that if you, the consumer, give up the convenience of not adding water to your soup, then you can at least feel like you've done something small to reduce waste and pollution.

I say it is a victory for Earth Day, first and foremost because green sells. Sure, a lot of it is fake, but still, green is a now selling point. And second this will probably influence some people do choose smaller cans, and that can have a large impact when you consider the scale of a huge company like Campbell's. And third, it plants the idea of consuming less packaging by choosing products that are condensed and require you to add water, rather than completely pre-fab convenience products like Lunchables or whatever. None of these things are ironic.

Still, I grant you that it seems ironic.

Posted by elenchos | April 22, 2008 1:21 PM

Well, this conversation is a lot less funny than the can of soup.

Posted by Dominic Holden | April 22, 2008 1:24 PM

Just doing my part to get keep anyone from getting too used to being happy.

It could be funny to mock the faux environmentalism of organic non-condensed soup. Their greener-than-thou packaging is a little over the top (and ironic!), if you've seen the soup aisle lately. Harder joke to tell, though.

Posted by elenchos | April 22, 2008 1:33 PM

Your story about the pajama pants was funnier. I am totally getting my own pair of those.

Posted by Hernandez | April 22, 2008 1:36 PM

I'm more surprised that they have pull-tab tops now. When did that start and why wasn't I informed?

Posted by El Seven | April 22, 2008 1:42 PM

Real environmentalists eat Campbell's without adding water, and they do it out of the can so they don't have to wash a dish later.

Posted by w7ngman | April 22, 2008 1:43 PM

what's ironic is that usually elenchos is the slog satirist.

it's not good that non-green items are being passed off as green. yes, people are trying to buy green (trying change the world without having to change much), but when they buy the same package with a green-colored label, what good have we done? if business sees that they can sell green without being green, we are losing the battle.

it would be like a earth day greeting card. oh.

Posted by infrequent | April 22, 2008 1:43 PM

You know for some reason (Product) Red products bother me like this pseudo green product does. I've never been able to articulate a coherent argument about why (Product) Red products annoy me though.

Posted by PopTart | April 22, 2008 1:54 PM

were you at breitenbush, dom?

Posted by scary tyler moore | April 22, 2008 2:07 PM

@20... i remember these yogurt tops that you could send in and the company would donate money to breast cancer research. what, so i have to buy it, clean it, put it in an envelope, and put a 41 cent stamp on it... and you are going to donate 10 cents? 10 cents? 10!?!?!

just donate the money. or donate based on sales. the rest was just annoying.

Posted by infrequent | April 22, 2008 2:53 PM

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