100% Pure? Lessons from New Zealand on The Dangers of Eco-Advertising

Photo by Katchoo | Flickr.com
You may be familiar with the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign – videos and images of majestic mountains, crystal blue waters and rolling green hills invite you to discover “a place that will forever keep you under its spell”. But what is this magical place? It is New Zealand, the land that is “100% Pure”.

 If you’re anything like me you’ve already booked your plane and packed your bags – you are convinced about this magical land, an environmentalist’s dream. But is New Zealand truly 100% Pure?

This is a question that has been on the minds of many environmentally-minded citizens of New Zealand, little to the knowledge of the rest of the world. I must admit that while living there for 6 months I was more aware of the little things that convinced me that New Zealand was indeed a very “green” and “eco-friendly” country than the signs that it was not. I was convinced by simple things like lights at hostels turning on only when the occupant inserted their room key (and hence turning off when the room was unoccupied), or dual-flush toilets being the norm; it also didn’t hurt that the landscape was simply breathtaking!

However, though the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign helped me in making this green assumption of New Zealand, it has also helped foster a sense of environmental complacency towards and within the country. Why should New Zealand strive to improve its environmental policies or reduce its environmental impact when the world already views it as the epitome of “Green”, the embodiment of “Pure”?

Just recently residents in New Zealand have struggled to gain traction in a fight to put a stop to a proposed 11.3km tunnel that would cut through Fiordland and Mt Aspiring National Parks in the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Area on the South Island. The purpose of the tunnel? Tourism, namely cutting 5 hours off a 9 hour roundtrip bus ride between two popular tourist destinations – Queenstown and Milford Sound. The plan has already been approved, in principle, by the Department of Conservation.

So how does the 100% Pure campaign fit in? Some opponents to the tunnel cite the campaign as the root cause of the ease with which environmentally-damaging projects such as this are being passed within government. However, others use the campaign itself as an argument against the tunnel, opposing the project due to its potential to derail the success and authenticity of the 100% Pure tourist brand.

This begs the question – is green advertising a hindrance or help to environmentalism? Can labelling a product or company (or in some cases an entire a country) as “green” work towards increasing environmental awareness? Or does doing so create an aspirational paradox: Citizens aware that city smog days are caused by air pollution, but complacent that thousands of hectares of conservation land will offset the problem.

As these opportunities for green marketing continue to grow, we as citizens of a global society must ensure that greenwashing does not. We must demand that companies, countries and marketers become conscious of sustainable and ethical concepts – that if green benefits are being sold, they must be sold with authenticity and with the understanding that doing so invokes an element of trust. As consumers we must seek out this truth with knowledge; by reading labels and company policies we can turn green marketing into a tool for environmental consciousness rather than a rag used for greenwashing and profit.