It’s 1953 All Over Again

I’d like to recommend a movie to watch over the Memorial Day Weekend that seems to have gotten very little attention. In fact, among Amazon’s top rated movies, it’s ranked 66,125.  The film, the Merchants of Doubt, portrays:

“How a loose-knit group of high-level scientists, with extensive political connections, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge [about the tobacco industry] for over four decades.” 1

Here’s what was going on and why it is important today.  By 1953, smoking had firmly been linked to lung cancer as well as other types of respiratory and cardiac diseases. These findings were reported in major, peer-reviewed health-related journals around the world.

In their response to the findings, the American tobacco industry, published what they called a “Frank Statement to Smokers” in hundreds of U.S. newspapers.  It stated that protecting the public’s health was their primary concern, and if changes had to be made, the industry would make them.

However, what followed, according to researchers Kelly D. Brownell and Kenneth E. Warner, “were decades of deceit and actions that cost millions of lives.” 2

What they uncovered was that to protect the financial interests of the tobacco industry, it had developed:

“A playbook, a script, that emphasized personal responsibility, paying scientists who delivered research that instilled doubt [about the dangers of smoking], criticizing the “junk” science that found harms associated with smoking, lobbying with massive resources to stifle government action, and simultaneously manipulating and denying both the addictive nature of their products and their marketing to children.”

The “playbook” worked well for four decades. The tobacco companies make billions of dollars in profits, with their CEOs taking home millions of dollars in bonuses.  But in August 2006, a judge ruled that the tobacco companies were “fraudulently covering up the health risks associated with smoking and for marketing their products to children.” The ruling was upheld upon appeal, making this the end of the road for the tobacco industry playbook.

We are witnessing virtually the same thing being played out today regarding climate change.  In the movie, Merchants of Doubt, it was revealed that even many of the same people and public relations firms working with the tobacco industry decades ago, denying that tobacco harms human health, are now involved with fossil fuel companies denying climate change.

What irks me the most is when we hear their reports that there is not a consensus among scientists believing climate change is real or that it is caused by human activities.  Ninety-seven percent of scientists and climate experts all agree climate change is real, is caused by human activity, is behind the global warming, and contributing to the frequency and intensity of storms and extreme weather events now happening here and around the world.

How much bigger a consensus do they need?

That’s the unfortunate news. However, there is good news, as well.

There is a lot we can do individually and as an industry, to reduce our impact on the environment.  Even better, we can save money by doing it.

For facility managers and other purchasers, ask your suppliers, including those that distribute cleaning products, to send you their environmental impact reports from operating their warehouses and delivery vehicles.  This is EASY!

If their customers (you) ask, distributors will realize just how important environmental issues and sustainability are to their customers. It will also be helpful when selecting suppliers and helpful again if energy and petroleum prices go up. The more sustainability-focused the distributor, the less they will be impacted by price increases, which usually just get passed along to you, their customers.

For jansan companies, we need to “walk the talk.” Ten years ago, it was enough to offer Green products and services.  Today, we must use those same products in our own business operations and make sure our companies are as sustainability-focused as possible.

This too, is EASY, especially for those distributors already tracking their energy, water, fuel, waste, etc. The next step is to participate in ISSA’s Distributor Efficiency Analytics & Learning  (DEAL) program.  Scores of jansan distributors have already realized the cost benefits of sustainability and efficiency through the DEAL program, saving tens of thousands of dollars.  Further, they find it is a tool they can use to differentiate themselves from their competitors.

So let’s bet on the 97 percent and become an industry of forward-thinking leaders.  Our children and bottom lines will both be better for it.

Till next month,

Steve

P.S.  Let me know what you think of the movie.

 

1 The movie, Merchants of Doubt, is based on the book, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming;” by Naomi Oreskes and Erick M. Conway; published by Bloomsbury Press, May 2011

2 “The Perils of Ignoring History: Big Tobacco Played Dirty and Millions Died. How Similar Is Big Food?” Kelly D Brownell, Kenneth E Warner Milbank Quarterly, March 2009

 

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