Friday, May 04, 2007

Green design jumps the shark

A city as notoriously auto-dependent as LA needs lots of oil. But Angelinos are more aware than ever of the problems posed by their petrochemicals: the brown air, the time wasted in traffic, the asthma and obesity, the global warming, etcetera, etcetera. Increasingly, the freeways and drive-thrus that defined LA for much of the 20th century are becoming a point of shame.

So what's an Angeleno to do? You could join the growing legions of bike commuters, or ride the expanding transit network, but those things would require diversions from your lifestyle of conspicuous consumption. We're at war: this is no time to make sacrifices.

So LA's benevolent oil industry has come up with an easier solution: the "green" gas station.

Photo courtesy of LAist.

So now, as long as you don't think too hard about it, you can enjoy warm, fuzzy feelings knowing that those gasoline fumes are mingling under a canopy of solar panels, then virtuously relieve yourself on the low-flow toilets.

Of course, if your mind slips and fires a synapse during the whole process, you'll be knocked flat by the tremendous irony of a "green" gas station. Judging from the interviews in this NPR piece, a lot of customers are indeed skeptical of the whole premise.

The marketing has got to be tricky: drawing attention to the station's green design will also draw attention to the deleterious effects of the fossil fuels that it sells.

To avoid this conflict, the owner of the gas station, British Petroleum (BP), implicitly falls back on an older green-marketing strategy: people just need cars, they tell us. Not driving just isn't an option, but here's an eco-toilet to make you feel better.

This was essentially the message of an older BP print advertising campaign (at right: a BP stooge compares driving to chocolate).

BP is marketing this new gas station as merely "a little better." Sure, they tell us, gasoline is bad for the environment, but what are you going to do? Everyone needs to drive. And if your only real choices are between BP and the dingy Quik-Mart down the street, then sure, the gas station with solar panels would be the "environmental" option.

But there are alternatives to spending three hours a day in a car: there are sidewalks and bicycles, buses, trains, and neighborhoods with front porches instead of two-car garages. Even in Los Angeles.

The "green" gas station tries hard to hide the pollution behind its product, but it's going to be a hard sell.


1 comment:

Patrick Ian Banks said...

"A Little Better"!?! Who came up with that slogan? The Onion's Editorial Board? Lame, lame effort on their part.