Move over Earth Day, Thanksgiving is the real green holiday

If you believe in environmental preservation, Thanksgiving has to be your favorite holiday. No offense to Earth Day, but Thanksgiving is the only day of the year with major holiday cachet that hasn’t been conquered by the profit motive and reduced to a fertility dance of selling, buying and throwing away.

We don’t wake up to Thanksgiving trees harboring Thanksgiving gifts swathed in Thanksgiving ribbons and wrapping paper on the last Thursday of November. There are no Thanksgiving baskets stuffed with Thanksgiving eggs, jelly beans and marshmallow turkeys all nestled in neon-colored plastic “grass” made from enough petroleum to power a Humvee. There are no Thanksgiving costumes, no Thanksgiving-themed candy bars to be hustled door-to-door. DeBeers diamonds and Hallmark don’t bull-rush the airwaves every November to cajole you into buying a tennis bracelet and a greeting card for your Thanksgiving sweetheart.

No, Thanksgiving is built around the primal pleasures of a good meal, good company, and gratitude for good fortune. Since there’s only so much money to be made in selling turkeys and cranberry sauce, the chances are pretty good that Thanksgiving will soldier on in the shadow of Christmas and Halloween, less ballyhooed but safe from the ravages of marauding commercialism.

Even though Thanksgiving is pretty environmentally friendly on its own, it also harbors opportunities for the environmentally conscious to help biodiversity by “voting with their dollars,” in the words of John Forti, a nationally known garden historian, herbalist, and museum curator based in CleanSpeak’s home of Portsmouth, N.H. Forti is a mover in the Slow Foods movement, an international effort to re-build the lost bonds between eating and community. One of the fallouts of the modern food economy, he explains, is the loss of genetic diversity in agriculture. When huge populations depend on a narrow range of food sources – one or two breeds of cows for milk, for example – they are vulnerable to disasters like the Irish Potato Famine of 1845, when fungus wiped out the main variety of potato the country’s poor lived on. Over the last 100 years, 75 percent of the genetic diversity in agricultural crops has been lost, according to

“Buying products like heirloom produce and heritage-breed turkeys at Thanksgiving helps preserve the past, and if we don’t preserve the past we’re not equipped for a sustainable future,” Forti says. “If we narrow genetic diversity too much we’re going to end up with more disasters like the Irish Potato Famine. We lost regionalism to agribusiness – those varieties of crops that grew in our different geographical areas. In the post-peak oil economy, we’re not going to be shipping food thousands of miles the way we do now, so it’s important to preserve those regional varieties.”

In other words, paying extra for a pedigreed turkey or mashing up locally grown parsnips and potatoes this Thanksgiving isn’t just a status symbol, it’s a way to ensure that there are turkeys and parsnips and potatoes to put on tables 10, 20 and 30 years in the future. So belly up to the Thanksgiving table, raise a glass to the Great Environmental Holiday and stuff yourself comatose for the environment. The future is counting on you.

Wildlife corridors: eyes wide shut

Doe jumping fenceA few years back I wrote about how ever-shrinking migration corridors across the American landscape threatened wildlife populations. Corridors are the natural avenues along which migratory wildlife travel, plants propagate, genes flow and species relocate in response to environmental changes. The Yellowstone-to-Yukon corridor spanning US and Canada is a good local example.

It’s one of the most underreported stories in the long parade of environmental causes. Possibly because it treads on so many sacrosanct issues like private land rights, housing and jobs.

So I was heartened when Treehugger brought the issue to light again this week in its 5 things you need to know about wildlife corridors post.

In a nutshell, the piece explains why current efforts by conservationists to establish protected habitats is folly if there’s no unencumbered connectivity between them. More importantly, the piece points out that it’s a political issue. Not so much for the environmentalist-vs-developer theatre, but rather for the cross-border cooperation needed between states and internationally in order to make it happen.

As my forementioned piece on computational ecology points out, we already have the data; we have the technology. If we can rally such inter-government cooperation to pull-off controversial commercial corridors for the Keystone pipeline spanning the Canadian oil sands to the Texas Gulf Coast (or, closer to home for me, the Quebec Hydro Northern Pass project), surely we can muster some cooperation and a few dollars to address this under-the-radar threat of wildlife extinction.

Rapid content response: can you do it?

Communications organizations need to act fast these days – like the bicycle maker that recently pounced on a green gaffe by General Motors.

Here’s how it went down.

GM put out this ad, targeted at college kids…

GM 'stop pedaling' ad

…showing a poor sap on a bike in front of a cute co-ed who was riding in a … wow, car!


…and then there was this part:

bad part

“Yep. Shameless,” wrote publisher/editor Jonathan Maus. “But just more of the same from the auto industry.”

Cyclists went ballistic. The auto company – a recent beneficiary of American tax dollars, contributor to our national debt, and the front end of a pretty big greenhouse gas supply chain – actually had the gall to promote its cars as, well, an alternative mode of transportation.

Why pedal, indeed? Why drink tap water when you can get a plastic bottle from Fiji? Why compost your leaves when you can let the garbage man take them to the landfill? Heck, why regulate carbon emissions when it’s easier just to spew?

Cyclists occupied Twitter with complaints about GM. The company quickly apologized (smart) via Twitter, shifting the blame onto college kids (dumb, but no one called them on it):

We're listening

One company in the bicycle industry, Giant Bicycles, actually made some hay with the story. The bike manufacturer came up with this take-off on GM’s ad and, within about 24 hours of the twitstorm’s beginning, posted it on Facebook.

Giant Bicycles reply parody ad

That’s quick.

The Giant post gained more than 1,000 likes and 386 shares (a pretty big share ratio). That’s solid engagement and a boost for the brand. Although Giant is admired for Toyota-like value, it doesn’t have the cachet of the Pinarello, Orbea or maybe even Trek brand. So leading the charge against GM’s foul, if only for a minute, adds an emotional dimension to Giant.

Either way, Giant’s rapid content generation feat is rare. Sure, savvy communications organizations know how to join a Twitter conversation, but quickly developing solid content like the parody ad almost never happens. Many companies and agencies still use byzantine “public relations 1.0” workflows for social content creation, review and approval – assuming they can conceive of a clever response in the first place.

Too often, it still takes a month to put out a press release. Even if social content takes half the time, this pace simply won’t work. In the age of Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, an opportunity goes cold long before you’ve had a chance to run your proposed creative response up and down the chain of command, collecting edits, suggestions and feedback at every turn. By the time the content is blessed, if it ever is, it’s worthless.

To get results in 2011, be ready to act. Faster than you ever have. Like Giant, which is said to be the world’s largest bicycle manufacturer.

So … how does a giant company like Giant get so fast on its feet?

Well, we asked them*.

CleanSpeak: First, how did you come up with the idea for your parody ad?

An Le, Giant Global Marketing Director: GM’s ad was so off the mark that it made our idea quite easy. We simply illustrated the real “reality” of what college students (and many of us) are facing these days – rising cost of fuel, congestion, and an ever-expanding waistline.

CleanSpeak: How did you get the ad done so fast?

Giant: Instead of going through our agency or design house, we did this piece in-house. It took us about two hours from conception to going live on Facebook. With Facebook, we have a quick and casual way to get a message out to our core audience, and we would not have produced this parody ad if Facebook did not exist.

CleanSpeak: Do you pull off these quick content creation feats very often?

An Le on a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.Giant’s An Le in a charity ride. Photo by Jake Orness.

Giant: We create content daily – be it news, videos, photos, etc. – but this is our first parody ad.

CleanSpeak: What’s your process for approving the concept and, later, the final? How many approvals?

Giant: We don’t have too many layers of management at Giant. I have final say in creative, and in creating this particular ad, our in-house designer (Nate Riffle, who sits next to me) and I bounced ideas back and forth and had it done in a couple of hours. If we work with a design agency, the process is similar but does take a bit more back and forth.

CleanSpeak: What is your secret for fast content creation?

Giant: Be quick. Avoid committee approval. Don’t worry about making it perfect. Have some guts to take chances once in a while. And don’t be malicious – do it in a spirit of fun.


* via email. They provided answers from their global marketing director in one hour and five minutes. Do your spokespeople move that fast? We got the right email address by pinging Giant’s Twitter address. That yielded another quick reply. Who’s monitoring your Twitter feed for media/blogger inquiries?