Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Green-Washing of Jackson County

I used to live next to a small Christmas tree farm. One autumn afternoon several years ago, I watched the owner spraying something on his trees. I knew enough about the operations to recognize that, on this day, he was not exterminating red spider mites. So to satisfy my curiosity, I walked over and started talking with him.

He explained, “My choose-and-cut customers will start coming in next month, so I’m getting ready for them. This is green dye.”

I’m sure my eyes widened and an incredulous look came over my face. And he continued to dye his trees a more pleasing shade of green.

Finally, I observed, “People really want that rich NATURAL look, don’t they?” I didn’t bother to ask if he planned to follow up with a round of agricultural-grade Glade Scented Air Freshener to enhance the natural fragrance of the trees.

Green is in. Green sells. Green begets more green. Christmas tree farmers know it. And savvy developers know it.

Balsam Mountain Preserve went green with their marketing, and as far as I know, it worked. On another day, I’ll explore how the taxpayers are subsidizing BMP’s publicity strategy. But that’s not on today’s agenda.

As reported last week, BMP has a new poster child for environmental awareness, none other than Andie MacDowell. Now, it’s not my intent to bash Ms. MacDowell. For all I know, her purchase of a Toyota Prius is a sincere effort to reduce her carbon footprint and not merely a way to leave more room in the garage for her Hummer.

Ms. MacDowell did manage to garner some publicity for Balsam Mountain Preserve on the Ecorazzi website, which describes itself as featuring “the latest in green gossip.” I would describe Ecorazzi as “Entertainment Tonight meets the Mother Earth News.”

Green is hip. Green is glamorous.

It’s not my intent to bash the Ecorazzi website and its colorful graphic design elements lifted from some old Madison Avenue flower-child themed ad campaign. At least they accepted a comment from me, wherein I posted a link to photographic evidence of BMP’s “environmental stewardship.” Ecorazzi deserves credit for that.

Even so, I scratch my head over a website devoted to the ecological consciousness of jet-setting celebrities. But life is full of contradictions, isn’t it?

A friend just forwarded me an article that appeared on last week. Fred Haefele’s story, Luxury Community of “Conscience”, has the compelling subtitle,
When the locals cried green-wash, the elite developer cried class envy. Welcome to Paradise Valley.

Haefele describes Wall Street tycoon Wade Dokken’s vision for a 9500 acre development in Montana:

He would create a new kind of luxury community in the heart of the American West. Different from the typical recreation-based developments, utopian in concept, his Ameya Preserve would be a place of unsurpassed beauty, where bright and uncommonly well-heeled people could, however briefly, take their ease in a community implementing the kind of cutting-edge technology that could one day save the planet.

Initially, local residents greeted the plans with a sense of relief. “To many, it was refreshing to hear a high-end developer talking knowledgeably about aquifers and habitat depletion. At first, Dokken got a lot of good ink…”

To sway any doubters and to gain regulatory approval for Ameya, Dokken launched a full-scale PR blitz for what he called “the most sustainable community ever built,” “a community of culture and conscience,” and “a private national park.” The last label resurrects memories of Balsam Mountain Preserve’s old slogan, “not a park within a community, but a community within a park."

Eventually, though, locals began to see that too much was more than enough. “One can't help but notice the lengths to which Ameya is going ... to make their project palatable to the public,” said one letter writer in the local paper.

A wildlife biologist questioned the whole premise of the development:

How many homes do the prospective clients [already] own, and how large are they? Think of how much jet fuel and gasoline is wasted by the ultra wealthy and their families, bopping around between their various homes and resorts. … [Ameya is] a sham; targeting wealthy and na├»ve, if not arrogant, individuals.

In response to that salvo, developer Dokken fired back, berating his critics for class envy and for unfairly criticizing “people who have had more success in life than the letter writers and blog writers ... Perhaps they were smarter. Perhaps they worked harder. Perhaps they managed their money better."

No doubt I’m revealing my class envy by taking the Legasus developers to task for their come-ons targeting class-conscious buyers:

Since the Gilded Age, the mountains of North Carolina have beckoned, and America’s children of fortune have answered their call. Here on the Highlands-Cashiers Plateau, River Rock conjures the high life.

In his story about the Montana development, Fred Haefele concludes:

The fact that the high-end real estate market fairly suppurates with descriptors like "elite," "privileged" and "exclusive," underscores an unpleasant truth; the people who can afford to buy up the most beautiful spots in the West have no intention of leaving their aristocratic values back home. … The real genius to Ameya Preserve is that it foresees that global warming might take the fun out of being rich. What if they wouldn't let you jet to two vacation homes per week? But at Ameya, some of the wealthiest people in the world would get to feel that, with no noticeable change in their habits or behavior, they could still be part of the solution. In this way, what Dokken offers most closely resembles the medieval sale of Indulgences; instead of examining or changing behavior, well-heeled sinners simply paid the fine, went right on sinning. After all, they could afford it.

It would appear the public relations people for Legasus have been attending the same seminars on green-washing as those attended by the folks at Balsam Mountain Preserve.
They try to reassure us that the golf course to be carved into the headwaters of several mountain streams will be “organic” and “Audubon certified.” So far, it appears that county officials are buying the hype, even parroting the hype, despite the inconvenient truth that there are no real standards for “organic golf courses” and that the “Audubon certification” is a fraudulently misleading invention of the golf course industry, having nothing to do with the Audubon Society.

Can we really expect that Phil Mickelson, the purported “designer” of the Legasus golf course, will have time in his busy schedule of competitive play to master such daunting subjects as the hydrology of the Southern Appalachians and non-toxic turf-grass management?

The green-washing underway locally brings to mind the words of one Montanan living near the Ameya “Preserve”:

It is difficult to forgive [the developer] for insinuating that we are stupid enough not to recognize a land speculator when we see one.

Well, here in Jackson County, we’re not that stupid.

Are we?


Anonymous said...

thanks for your article on GREEN
I just got a
GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK Tee-shirt for Mother's Day. !!!!!!!
had to look that up on GOOGLE to see where it came from. now I can make a FASHION statement.
guess I will wear it to the public meetings when we continue to raise awareness of truly caring about the "green of the mountains" and be support of the rivers, slopes etc.

GULAHIYI said...

Thanks, Andie, way to go!!!

(And Happy Mother's Day)