"Scientists find cure for global warming," the lead story on Telegraph Earth thundered last week.
Phew. Well, that's alright then. Now we can feel marginally less guilty about flying our mineral water in from New Zealand and running around town in gargantuan, military-style vehicles.
However, nagging doubts remain. This is, after all, an undeniably confusing business. Some of us have only just been getting used to the fact that the Telegraph's website has an Earth Channel in the first place - the paper's editorial culture has traditionally been sceptical of scare stories and unapologetically grouchy about all sorts of fads and bandwagons.
But having now positioned itself at the forefront of green awareness, it appears careless to intimate that the scare may be over - or, worse, continue to give space to writers who seem determined to pick holes in a body of "science" now accorded the status of Holy Writ by green campaigners. Look, for instance, at a recent article on the Earth Channel entitled "The Deceit Behind Global Warming".
After all, this is no longer an amusing parlour game. Real money is now at stake - and major advertisers, whether they like it or not, now feel duty bound to channel a growing chunk of marketing spend into schemes designed to underline their green credentials.
The Telegraph's "cure for global warming" story appeared on a page featuring three banner ads for Volkswagen. (Or rather, one ad, repeated thrice over - surely a needlessly greedy consumption of the world's rapidly diminishing stock of pixels.) "You could drive a BlueMotion Polo instead of your normal small car and save over 500kg of CO2 a year," it said.
But why bother if the scare is over? If the Telegraph doesn't watch out, it will lose out to The Guardian - an institution whose underlying green credentials have never been in any doubt. In fact, its first issue in 1821 probably railed against the atrocious smog in Manchester - one of many doom-laden consequences of the Industrial Revolution and its "Satanic" mills.
And last week, The Guardian offered proof, if proof were needed, about who's the daddy in this green field, as it launched guardianecostore.co.uk, an online retail operation selling all manner of eco-friendly, organic and fair trade gubbins, ranging from fashion items and office equipment to gardening products. It is an inspiring example of how you go about turning a threat (to the world) into an opportunity (for The Guardian).
On the other hand, as any green marketer will tell you, it's more lucrative to scare Telegraph readers - they have more money to burn.
1. The Guardian's "ecostore" is managed on behalf of Guardian Unlimited by Natural Collection, the UK's pre-eminent eco department store. In the site's drive to sell banner advertising, it is especially targeting charities, though last week its most prominent backer was that eminent sustainable energy campaigner British Gas. The Guardian's current management believes the brand has a calling to "lead the media industry in building a sustainable future for, and together with, all our stakeholders - readers, staff, advertisers and suppliers". It aims to be "carbon positive" through its activities. So seriously does it take this calling that it appoints an auditor to produce a yearly sustainability report.
2. BBC also announced an initiative last week designed to cash in on green issues - a new advertising-supported site will extend the activities of its loveearth.com website. Like The Guardian, the BBC sees itself as a green campaigner - but earlier this year, no less a figure than Jeremy Paxman tore a strip off his employers, accusing them of gross hypocrisy, leaving the lights burning all night at Television Centre and creating a global "carbon vapour" as a result of the lavish travel involved in producing the Planet Earth series.
3. The Telegraph launched the Earth Channel part of its website in May this year to report and analyse environmental issues. It is advertising supported.
4. BSkyB announced in May 2006 that it "had achieved carbon-neutral status" and pledged that it would make efforts to continue to save energy.
5. All newspapers publishers cut down vast forests in the pursuit of their profession, but it's the daily freesheets that are most conspicuous in their relentless production of litter. They've been forced by local councils to help create recycling schemes.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR ...
- Most media owners have been trying to position themselves as responsible organisations, attuned to the concerns of society as a whole. Clearly, it doesn't pay to be too strident or dangerously obsessed - as, arguably, The Independent has become. The great British newspaper-reading public doesn't tend to have much time for zealotry of any sort, and The Independent's scolding (and at times hysterical) tone has arguably worked merely to undermine its authority generally as an honest broker of information. This has commercial implications, too. It's not easy to trust your money to any organisation that seems at war with consumer society.
- Far better, surely, to have the sort of post-modern relativist approach that allows you to enhance your brand as a media owner while at the same time managing to "monetise" your green credentials.
- Currently, everyone's a winner in the green game. Advertisers across many sectors are desperate to be seen to be advertising in contexts that enhance the ecology-friendly messages they're putting out. Placement in the right editorial domain will automatically validate those messages, however spurious. As any media planner will tell you, the environment really does matter.