Is it possible for a corporate behemoth to loudly embrace environmentalism without being accused of greenqwashing and greed? Capping off the recent media fixation with all things green, NBC and its many subsidiaries launched an ambitious publicity campaign on Sunday called "Green is Universal." In addition to shrinking the company's environmental footprint behind the cameras, the campaign involves NBC, Bravo, MSNBC, Telemundo, and other NBC-owned channels promoting environmental awareness through special reports on news shows and strained attempts at incorporating environmental themes into primetime programming. (The plot of Heroes this week: "It's green week at Claire's school and her new friend, West, helps with some energy-saving tricks around her house and she's hoping he doesn't stumble upon a picture of the man that kidnapped him as a child.")
The whole thing is pretty easy to make fun of, and it certainly comes off as forced and ham-handed at times, like when Sunday Night Football commentators kicked off the campaign by broadcasting from a darkened studio. At least one television critic has already written a column accusing NBC of hypocrisy and -- even worse -- bad programming, and he's not the only one throwing tomatoes. Deniers of global climate change have, predictably, attacked NBC for propagandizing, and the network has faced criticism from some environmental bloggers for "greenwashing" the role it has in promoting wasteful consumption.
As more thoughtful analysts have suggested, NBC's efforts are indeed far from perfect, but there's evidence that they are motivated by a real desire for a change in how the company operates. Yes, NBC execs could be hoping to sell ads and boost their sagging ratings through a well-publicized campaign, but so what? Environmentalists have long argued that going green doesn't have to conflict with businesses making a profit, and indeed, it's probably the only way to nudge corporate America toward more responsible behavior. NBC has taken a big step forward. Now it's up to environmentalists - and environmental reporters - to follow up on these efforts to see if it's all rhetoric or whether the airwaves really did just get a little greener.
This post first appeared on the On the Beat blog for Plenty magazine.