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Green Ink and Green Ham:

When Dr. Seuss wrote Green Eggs and Ham he meant to pull children into a realm of beginning reading and love for words, not to point them down a road of environmental alternatives. Still, we can now enjoy “green” eggs and ham… in the sense that the eggs can be free-range and the ham organic.

(To honor Seuss, and maybe hype a movie, the International House of Pancakes is offering Green Eggs and Ham until April 20. As far as I can tell, the eggs have green vegetables in them; they’re not dyed green and neither is the ham. We’d expect no less from an “international” pancake house.)

I don’t know if Seuss ever intended for his delightful book to contribute to an earth-first mentality about the color green, but I’m pretty sure he never meant to have the color green become a beacon for shoppers. I’m referring to product packaging and other printing that deploys green ink even when it may be dubious that there’s anything seriously “green” about the product. Look at your laundry and household products in your home or on your grocer’s shelf. Green ink is also used to imply health or at least some reach for health in food products. I’m not exactly sure how ink slows global warming or lowers cholesterol, but there’s a lot of green ink flying around these days.

Because the Mirror prides itself on both bold editorial content and a solid record of avoiding litigation, I’ll refer to a recent flyer in my Sunday newspaper as advertising for “a major computer manufacturer.” The printed section in question featured photos of laptop computers with green lines that flowed through them… almost as if grass was blooming from inside the circuitry. Yet I could find no reference to any specific “green” aspect of the machines being touted; these were just computers that somehow fit into the dawn of a new green age and if you wanted to enter that age… you’d get one. And plug it in.

There’s probably no real damage in deploying green ink as long as consumers stay on point and look closely at what they’re buying… buying both in terms of a retail transaction and maybe some fuzzy earth-first or health-first notions. There are packaging and printing color changes that do make a difference. When the paper-ware at your coffee franchise is brown, it means that the process of bleaching the paper to make it white has been avoided. When paper mills use chlorine to bleach paper, it creates polluted waste water containing hazardous organic compounds. And that waste water has to go… somewhere.

Maybe all we’re looking for is a little clarification. I don’t mind if manufacturers want to indicate that their products are green-er or more green than other products. But that claim should be specific. When we buy snacks that have “half the fat,” we look at the smaller type which usually reads “than the fat-saturated garbage you’ve been eating, Chubby.” Or words to that effect. I can accept that a certain laptop computer might have a smaller carbon footprint than, say, a riding lawn mower or Toby Keith’s pick-up truck. But say that. Don’t print the ad for the computer in swirling green ink and cause me to think that if I do my email on this thing I’m somehow saving penguins.

If we are seeing the dawn of a green age, then it looks like we’re going to need keenly-tuned sensibilities as consumers. It’s even reasonable to wonder aloud if consumer culture – certainly as we’ve known it – and green living can co-exist, although those that manufacture consumer goods would love it if everyone would please jump over that hurdle right now and continue moving on down the aisles of your stores.

Some years back, a movement developed around the idea that people could live with less of what money could by, downsize their lives, live small… and not be burdened with too many possessions. I’m not sure what happened to that movement, although a lot of people join involuntarily when they lose their jobs. Maybe the temptations of fast money during the dot-com period played devil to that angel. The ultimate act of buying green, in most cases, is not buying at all. You may want to stone me for preaching that heresy at a time when consumer confidence is down. Well, fine… just don’t hose me with green ink.

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