Green Like Me

In case you haven't noticed (roll down the tinted windows), San Francisco is in the midst of an advertising blitz. Bright green posters have landed in bus shelters all over town, and full-page ads have splashed down in several newspapers (this one included). A few sod-covered couches alighted on city streets for one day in November — long enough for the mayor to plant his ass on one for a photo-op.

"GREEN IS more than the blue bins on the curb," reads one poster, shilling for a new Web site called Letsgreenthiscity.com, on which you can get and share information on how to make your life more environmentally conscious. And it's all brought to you by PG&E.

It might look as if the company were tired of single-handedly making up S.F.'s Axis of Evil. Perhaps it felt the need for a bit of greenwashing?

No, no, no, insists company spokeswoman Darlene Shiu: "This is not about PG&E, but about the city itself. We want to help the city be as green as it can possibly be." The company is simply starting with its hometown, Shiu says, but will eventually expand the campaign to other California towns. If, along the way, people learn a little something about the company's good works, well, that will be fine.

To be fair, PG&E has made some progress (albeit with much prodding). In May, its smoke-belching Hunters Point power plant finally closed. The company endorsed the state's Global Warming Solutions Act, which passed in June. And last week it won approval from the California Public Utilities Commission to offer its customers the option of becoming "carbon neutral" by paying a couple of dollars extra on their utility bills; the company claims that money will be invested in projects that reduce the carbon load in the atmosphere.

Yet despite PG&E's efforts, the local environmental community doesn't seem to want to play. The Web site's list of partner organizations consists mostly of businesses (both local and out of state) peddling green wares, with only a few of the city's notable enviro organizations included. The executive director of Friends of the Urban Forest says it's on board because it got a no-strings-attached $5,000 grant from the company; other groups, like Livable City and the Sierra Club's local chapter, haven't been asked to participate, and don't plan to. The blogs are scanty and the forums are echo chambers. Invited by PG&E to build a community, most greenies are politely ignoring the call.

So if PG&E really wants to "help the city be as green as it can possibly be," here's a message it might take to heart: GREEN IS more than an expensive ad campaign.

 
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