I Think That I Shall Never See, Greenwashing Lovely as a Tree

While waiting for my new tires at a local shop recently, the clerk handed me a beautiful card with an image of a lovely spruce tree, offering me the chance to “Get a quote, plant a tree.” Just for a little more urgency, the card also said “Limited Time Offer.” At the bottom, it had the logos for the American Automobile Association, better known as AAA, and the Arbor Day Foundation.

Seeing the come-on, I recalled that Ralph Nader had outed AAA as “a big time lobbyist that mimics the agenda of the nation’s giant automobile manufacturers.”

The auto club, Nader charged, fought against the Clean Air Act and lobbied against public transit, car safety standards, and even bike paths. Was the tree-planting AAA really the same organization that suggested that building more roads is the best way to alleviate air pollution?

To be fair, AAA says they never opposed the Clean Air Act (instead, they claimed the Act would increase new car prices). They also say that it’s “totally false” that they lobbied against public transit (instead they lobbied against an increase in gas taxes because some of the money would have gone to public transit). They claim they never opposed airbags (but when proposals to mandate airbags were introduced, AAA lobbyists released a survey claiming that people preferred mandatory seatbelt laws to airbag standards).

Given AAA’s track record on these environmental and safety issues, I started to wonder about its pretty tree-planting program.

Then I decided to take a look at the website of the Better World Club (BWC) to see if they’re also planting trees. You may know BWC as the progressive alternative to AAA. Unlike the auto-industry stooge, BWC works for real environmental and health protections, donates 1% of their revenue (not their profits, their revenue) to environmental and other progressive groups, and are endorsed by Click and Clack, the NPR Car Talk guys, who introduce BWC to listeners with the phrase, “Finally, an auto club with decent values.”

And it turns out that BWC isn’t planting trees – because, as Club founder Mitchell Rofsky told the New York Times, tree planting projects are often phony climate change solutions. “It is easy to cheat,” he said, “and besides, as young trees absorb more CO2 than old ones, carbon dioxide offsets may inspire the clear-cutting of forests to plant new trees.”

So, next time you’re getting new tires (or looking for roadside assistance, insurance or travel services), skip AAA’s greenwashing, and check out alternatives that truly reflect your values.