Thursday, May 19, 2011

Really Stupid Greenwash: Budweiser's grow a beard, save water campaign

We use 1,500 gallons of water  to make 
one 32 gallon barrel of beer!
The American beer company Anheuser-Busch, makers of Budweiser, is urging American men to grow a beard between now and World Environmental Day on June 5. According to Budweiser, the average American man uses 5 gallons (almost 20 litres) of water each time he shaves. They estimate that their 'grow a beard campaign' can save a million gallons of water.


I first heard of this campaign as an advertisement on Onion News Network. A husky American guy was out fishing in a motor powered boat, urging men to stop shaving. I thought it was a joke, but it's not--you can read about it here.  You can pledge your support on the Budweiser facebook page.


This is the worst kind of green wash, because it makes people believe they are doing something, when they are not. Sure we need to save water. And yes, shaving does require water. But so do a lot of things in life that we do every day. Why not stop doing them? 


When he heard of this campaign, my 11 year old sun suggested that American men give up bathing and washing their clothes from now until June 5. That would be smelly, but it would certainly save more water than not shaving. Alternatively, since it takes a huge amount of water to grow and process food, American men could give up eating potato chips for the next few weeks--that would be healthier--and I'll bet it would save a lot of water. Really committed men could simply go on a three week fast. (Sorry, but you'll die if you actually stop drinking water, so I don't recommend that, though it would save a lot of water...). 


The problem is that real change--the kind of change the planet needs--will require more than feel good symbolic steps. We need to change the way we live--every day. Shave, if you want, but don't use 19 litres of water when you do it--simply turn off the tap between strokes. Take a bucket bath. Use the water you rinse your clothes with to wash the next load--that kind of thing. 


Even more important, we need to make some big changes in things that we don't often think about when we think about water. Like the food we eat. Long grain rice, for example, uses much, much more water than traditional millets. Actually, wheat uses a lot of water also. Far more water is used by food production than by toilets and bathing. And then you have our modern consumer society. Those blue jeans you are wearing? They took 6800 litres to make; an automobile takes nearly 1,50,000 litres to produce! (Figures at Treehugger; use this site to convert gallons to litres).


The purveyors of greenwash don't want you to change the things that matter, because that would mean you might consume less. They know many people around the world are profoundly worried about the way things are going. They want to help ease our minds; otherwise we might use our minds to figure out a new way to live.


By the way: the makers of Budweiser beer know that a 32 gallon barrel of beer takes 1,500 gallons of water to make (see that Treehugger link for the details). In other words, if you give up one 330 ml Budweiser, so save 15 litres of water--or just about 4 gallons, which is almost as much as you'll save by not shaving. And if you forgo a big 650 ml bottle of beer, well, you've practically saved the world!

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