April 4th, 2009
05:38 AM ET

Dear President Obama #75: Turning on the green machine

Reporter's Note: President Obama, when he is not traveling the world, is asking Americans to help him with advice on how to run the country. After waiting on hold for the better part of an afternoon, I decided writing the White House might be better than calling; and ever since I’ve turned out a letter a day.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Loved that speech over in Europe about taking on global climate change. Your thoughts were clear, sharp, and the crowd warmed up to you like…well, I guess the planet. But here’s something to keep in mind as you push toward instituting you global warming initiatives back home; if you don’t connect with the Walmart and McDonald’s crowd, you may find your reception…uh, kind of cool.

Some time ago I read an article about “green” marketing. It said most consumers, given a choice between a green product and a not-green one, will chose the environmentally friendly alternative, but only if it looks like a “normal” product. The towels must have bright colors, the soap should smell nice, the napkins ought to be white and soft. The researchers found that if you rolled out some kind of brown, scratchy, Dead Head hand-me-down, it just wouldn’t fly.

Makes sense. Think about the Prius. It pretty much appeared to be a regular Toyota. There were earlier versions of eco-friendly cars but nobody wanted them, because they were small, and bubble or box shaped, and even the hard core eco-crowd didn’t want to ride around in a vehicle that looked like it belonged to George Jetson. Or Gallagher.

My point is I’ve met oceans of regular Americans, people who are not particularly into politics or causes, who are willing to get on board the environmental train if you will just give them a hand. That means you can’t dwell a lot on what you believe will happen a century from now; they need to hear what is coming next week, next month, next year. They want to hear about the positives of responding, not the negatives of ignoring.

(Some of your environmental pals, btw, could take a lesson in that. Sometimes it seems like they are a strange kind of new Puritan; opposed to anything that involves people having fun.)

Even if you think we will have to sacrifice something to address this issue, that’s not the way to sell it. A car dealer doesn’t start by talking about how much your new ride will cost. He starts by talking about what a great car it is, the money you will save, and how much you will love it. In the end, that’s what makes you feel good, and a lot of people will buy that.

Hope your weekend is going well. Did you try to call last night? I was taking a shower and thought I heard the phone.



Find more of the Foreman Letters, here.

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. Michael "C" Lorton, Virginia

    Buying a new car and listening to a political candidate are about the same--it is not what they say--–but it is what they say that makes people "feel good,"-–and when people feel good-everything sells--but then again--sometimes everything is not what it appears to be.

    April 6, 2009 at 8:24 am |
  2. Luis

    If we go green, the government is going to have to reduce it's size. Who knows, going green might work.

    The government makes a lot of money from taxing the "evil" oil companies. You do know that right? I beleive State governments tax gasoline sales as well.

    How are they going to make up the revenue? This calls for a CNN special or something. I heard California OR Nevada want to start taxing the sun or something.

    Research it and get back to me.

    April 5, 2009 at 11:49 pm |
  3. 34fp27

    I give the president credit for what he's doing. I have to becouse every day he is telling us what he's doing. good or bad right or wrong he is trying to do something. he has done more on all fronts that bush did in eight uyears.

    April 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm |
  4. Isabel

    Hello, Tom!

    The line that separates the equilibrium of environmental destruction was too fine and now the responsibility comes home and the supermarket carts, but there remains much to be conquered.

    One of the biggest problems, I think, in times of crisis, is the value of green products. The consumer ceases to buy products with eco-certification, if the items without similar
    Certification has a cost cheaper.

    Another problem is that as we speak both in sustainability and global warming, the amount of information, often is contradictory, confuses and tires by the person best-intentioned environmentally. I myself, after reading your post I decided seek green products and I discover that my desktop (Studio Hybrid) is considered one of the best green products today's technology. I bought and did not even know!

    The responsible consumption is a way of the people to contribute to a more sustainable planet and also signal to governments and companies that are concerned about that the impact that the society causes with the environment.

    Thank you!

    April 4, 2009 at 9:06 pm |
  5. Annie Kate


    Now Tom, I'm an environmentalist and I'm not opposed to people having fun. In fact, most of the "green" things I support will not only allow people to continue to live comfortably but have fun also. When you get down to it though, people don't seem to pay attention until you get to the really awful consequences – the reduction in food supplies because of the reduction of farmable land; the scarcity of drinking water even in the US because the glaciers in the mountains melted away and that was our source of fresh water each year; the dying off of the coral, etc.

    Take the coral for example – people love to scuba dive to see the beautiful coral, but if it is all dead because the temperatures of the surrounding waters got too warm then that kills the scuba diving; it also renders the coral ineffective for breaking up storm surges and giving small ocean life places to live – which means less of the small stuff for the bigger stuff to eat so the bigger stuff gets winnowed down and that impacts on our food supply. Kind of a long chain isn't it – that is the kind of inter-relatedness we have to deal with. So yes, I want to save it because in the end it saves us but it also saves our fun.

    Saving our food and water resources too reduces the chances of wars over our basic needs for water and food. So Obama can present this in any light he wants to or feels he needs to but sometimes you can't just do it on the good stuff it will give people – because some will agree its nice but we need to do something else first – while we do all this other stuff our planet just gets worse. I like the way Obama is trying to incorporate our climate change efforts with other solutions to other problems. Hopefully that will make it more solvable also.

    Sorry so long – hope the Prez calls you soon. You have a lot of good points in your letters. I still think you ought to collect them all at the end and put them in a book – for social history it certainly would be a good reflection of this time in our history.

    April 4, 2009 at 8:34 pm |
  6. renee

    These letters are the best thing that has EVER happened to my home page! Keep "em coming!

    April 4, 2009 at 5:34 pm |
  7. bridget

    Tom Pres Obama is just telling it to us honestly. i'd rather hear it that way than try to sell it like a car dealer and once you buy the car you see it's not quite what they said it was going to be. as for organic earth friendly products there are many out there that smell great, look great, and feel great, just look on the web you'll find plenty

    April 4, 2009 at 1:36 pm |
  8. Jamar Parker

    Why don't retailers set up store aisles with strictly green items. It makes it easier for consumers. Less reading of labels and going from aisle to aisle. Put every GREEN product on the first two or three aisles. Make consumers pass these products before they get to the products that harm planet.

    April 4, 2009 at 11:46 am |
  9. Maria

    Happy day Tom,
    I am a freind of the environment and I think protecting the environment should be step by step, not direct jump, I am with president Obama on re-inventing the green energy that produce the least, or non toxic compounds, and that is why I lighted the candel on the earth hour 🙂
    ur letter as green as clean energy and I bet u President Obama will love it.
    Have a lovely day

    April 4, 2009 at 11:08 am |
  10. RLWellman

    Mr. President,
    Does this mean you will be changing the Whitehouse heating system from coal burning to wind turbine? I think it will look nice to see a turbine out the top of the Whitehouse. Also, you will have to turn the temperature down to 68 from your balmy 80 it was set on all winter. You can set it on 80 this summer, so as not to run the air conditioning too much.

    April 4, 2009 at 9:54 am |