Congress Goes Green 1 Cubicle at a Time and NBC is Reading Your Mind


From the Hill”¦

It’s almost Earth Day – do you know where your congressman is? Chances are, he or she is greening the office. Maryland Representative “Dutch” Ruppersberger announced plans to increase energy efficiency, save resources and cut costs in his Washington, DC., office. He’s participating in the “My Green Office” program, which was initiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a year ago this month.

Congressman Ruppersberger and his staff are implementing new practices and technology to reduce energy consumption and operational costs, including:

  • Installing new smart power strips that automatically turn off when computers are not in use
  • Replacing traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient ones
  • Eliminating the use of bottled water with a new water filtration system
  • Switching to reusable coffee mugs and glasses
  • Ordering solar shades and composting bins

“These changes may seem simple and insignificant, but if every House Office participates, we can save nearly $1 million and keep up to 3,000 pounds of garbage from filling up landfills every year,” said Congressman Ruppersberger.

He purports that participation in the program over the course of a year will reduce electricity consumption at the House of Representatives by more then 7,500 kWH, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 16,000 pounds and result in savings of more than $1,300 from reduced electricity and procurement costs.

Thus far the program has trained roughly 3,000 House staffers in ways to eliminate material, electric and pollutant waste in their respective offices, and expects to reach all 7,000 DC Metro area House employees by the end of this year.

Since Pelosi launched the My Green Office program on Earth Day 2009, her office reports that the House has saved 1 million sheets of paper each month and 175,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, diverted 75,000 pounds of waste from landfills and cut nearly 400,000 pounds of carbon emissions.

For those of us keeping score, Congress has yet to significantly improve environmental policies by passing comprehensive legislation beyond that of the first of its kind in 1970 (the year Earth Day was founded by Senator Gaylord Nelson). Radical Republican Howard Baker perhaps drafted the most passionate provision in the Clean Air Act, the “technology forcing” section that required all new cars to have catalytic converters, even though no such device was yet commercially available.

In recent years, the green movement (in politics) has sought to find softer language and more nonpartisan positions that would help raise support in diverse communities, including those with little or no interest in environmental values. Meanwhile, each draft of the climate bill becomes less aggressive than its predecessor. Those energy-efficient office light bulbs and reusable coffee mugs will come in useful when drafting yet another bland iteration.

From the Street”¦

Is NBC giving the word programming a bad name? That’s the sentiment bandying about the blogs this week. It appears that television shows on the peacock network have been trying out a new subliminal messaging stratagem: behavioral placement. Product placement is so American Idol after all. But the results have been mixed. People have proven to be surprisingly offended by it. (Like this network needed another kerfuffle after Conangate.)

Instead of shilling for brand-name beverages and designer doughnuts, NBC executives have been running demonstrations of eco-savvy living during popular sitcoms and dramas.

All programming this month is themed around – or directly influenced by – the aforementioned Earth Day. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal exposed the Green Initiative (aka General Electric’s insidious mind tricks), which the network didn’t deny: If “Tina Fey is tossing a plastic bottle into the recycling bin,” the theory goes, audience members will be conditioned to do the same.

Christopher Rosen in Movieline calls the practice “creepy” and “dumb,” and states that “the pressure to be eco-conscious has reached a new high”¦NBC implies that people are too “˜patently stupid’ to make healthy decisions on their own”¦do viewers really need NBC “telling them how to run their life?”

To Rosen and his fellow critics, I query: This is what’s gotten you riled up? Television execs have always treated tube viewers like boobs. Witness laugh tracks, ad campaigns labeled “Must See TV” and shows like Friends that depict characters obsessed with items from Pottery Barn and Tiffany & Co. to compel viewers to obsess over them as well. Now that’s pushy.


But having Tina Fey’s character Liz Lemon toss empty plastic bottles into the recycling bin? Casting Al Gore to send-up his own gung-ho environmentalist image (while at the same time encouraging viewers to embrace his latter-day eco-awareness)? Fine by me. The earth is a nobler beneficiary than junk food brands and soft drink makers. And an episode of The Office featuring a cast member dressed as a made-up superhero named Recyclops didn’t tarnish the show’s quality in the least. The Office has seen a sharp drop in quality, all right, but that has nothing to do with socially conscious tinkering.

Does NBC’s Green Initiative seem intrusive, even Orwellian? This progressive stereotyping segments “viewers”¦into categories based on their favorite shows and their level of concern about the environment,” says Rosen. Sounds like Nielsen ratings and social responsibility gone right to me.

Television provides a service. If it aims to provide some useful eco tips while it works to entertain, it’s on par with going to the supermarket and being offered a cash incentive if you bring your own grocery bag. Unless there really is a greedy marketplace for designer compost heaps in need of a celebrity push from the cast of 30 Rock.

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in Christopher Correa’s weekly column, Hill/Street Greens, examining the environmental deeds (and misdeeds) of Washington, D.C. and Wall Street.

Images: Speaker Pelosi and image courtesy of