23 Apr 2009
The Beautiful Absurdity of ‘Flights for Lights’
Here is a wonderful story, sent to me by my friend Peter, offering a kind of Transition Tale in reverse. Transition Tales, as readers of ‘The Transition Handbook’ will be aware, are stories from a powered down future set out in such a way as to help them to imagine what a successfully powered-down world might be like. The opposite of a Transition Tale would be a story from the present, so stupid and mind-bending, yet with its own internal logic, that somehow neatly sums up the blockages to our ever reaching that world. Tesco’s recent ‘Flights for Lights’ promotion is such a story.
The thrust of the promotion runs like this. Given the scale of climate change, we urgently need to get people to adopt energy saving measures, in particular to really scale up the numbers of people installing low energy light bulbs. How best to incentivise this? Well, according to this campaign, the way is to give people air miles to encourage them to save energy. Buying a low energy bulb earns the shopper a £2.50 Clubcard voucher, which in turn translates in 60 airmiles. At this point your brain probably fused. Mine did.
The story is reported by Ed Gillespie of Futerra in the Guardian last week. He writes;
“What next? Free packet of 20 Benson and Hedges with every Nicorette patch? A dozen king-size Mars bars with every box of Ryvita? Talk about being counter productive. It’s like being lost in the desert, miles from anywhere, and eating your own legs to sustain yourself during your search for help”.
We are awash with greenwash, including Gillespie’s favourite, the ad by Turkish Airlines with the strapline “we are changing the skies”. Fabulous. I still, years later, am bewildered by the term ‘environmentally friendlier’ that used to appear on products in the earlier 90s. Friendlier than what? Chernobyl? Pol Pot? A swimming pool full of Agent Orange? Jeremy Clarkson? The Colorado Beetle? Such labels and adverts ought to be laughed at loudly in the middle of the shop.
“Flights for Lights” does rhyme beautifully though and have a certain symmetry. Any Transition Culture readers got any other ideas for similar schemes? How about ‘Spikes for Bikes’, where when you buy a new bike, they run out ahead of you and cover the road outside with spikes to burst the tyres and render your new bike inoperable?
Or perhaps ‘Parrots for Carrots’, where every time you buy a bunch of carrots, Tescos unleash a swarm of man-eating highly-trained parrots over a major city to reek carnage and vengeance. Or ‘Bombs for Toms’, where when you buy a bag of discounted tomatoes, and Tescos pop round and dynamite your house before you make it home? ‘Every Little Helps’ indeed.