Natural Landmarks: True Conservation Or DOI Greenwashing?

Hanging Lake is one of the sites recently designated by the DOI as a natural landmark.

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has designated six new natural landmarks as part of the agency’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative.” The following six sites have joined the more than 500 places already designated under the National Natural Landmarks Program:

Barfoot Park. Located in the Chiricahua Mountains of southern Arizona, this site is known for its unique plant and animals species, as well as for its meadows and springs. The site comprises 680 acres of land managed by the U.S. Forest Service.

Morrison-Golden Fossil Areas. This newly designated landmark, located west and north of Golden, Colo., is one of the most important paleontological sites in the western U.S., and is known around the world for its abundance of reptile, mammal and bird fossils.

Hanging Lake. Located east of Glenwood Springs, Colo., this 72-acre site represents a rare wetland ecosystem within the White River National Forest and includes natural wonders such as hanging gardens.

The Island. Situated on an isolated plateau at the intersection of the Deschutes and Crooked rivers in Oregon, this is one of the best preserved examples of native juniper savannah. The site is a Designated Research Natural Area and is managed by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service.

Round Top Butte. This Oregon landmark includes flat, volcanic plains, and is home to over 700 acres of native bunchgrasses, making it a unique habitat. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), it also includes a preserve run by the Nature Conservancy.

Kahlotus Ridgetop. This site represents the remains of the Palouse Prairie, which the DOI says is the most endangered and altered landscape in the inland Pacific Northwest. Only about 1% of the original prairie remains.

Kahlotus Ridgetop

A passive approach

Federal recognition of new landmarks is a start, but it is far from what these natural landmarks deserve. The National Park Service’s (NPS) National Natural Landmarks Program encourages conservation, but it does not impose any new land-use restrictions on the sites.

The NPS says the goals of the program are to “encourage the preservation of sites illustrating the geological and ecological character of the United States, enhance the scientific and educational value of sites thus preserved, strengthen public appreciation of natural history, and foster a greater concern for the conservation of the nation’s natural heritage.”

Pretty passive approach, if you ask me. Without any real federal protections for these landmarks, the designation can be rendered useless – essentially the product of a lame image-building campaign from the federal government.

The National Natural Landmarks Program is hardly a PR stint unique to the Obama administration; the program was founded in 1962. Yet the DOI’s “America’s Great Outdoors Initiative” – which actually encourages hunting and fishing under the mantra of conservation – raises my suspicions.

If the U.S. is truly serious about conservation, it needs to start taking a stronger stance on preservation and stop greenwashing the American public.


Another Fast-Food Greenwash: KFC Opens ‘Eco-Friendly’ Restaurant

Whether it’s due to a nagging sense of guilt or the pure delusion of PR staffs, greenwashing among fast-food chains appears to be a growing trend. Wendy’s and McDonald’s are just two of the companies to launch “green” campaigns in recent months, and Taco Bell spent a hefty sum defending the quality and sustainability of its “beef.”

The latest offender is KFC, which issued a press release Tuesday touting a new “eco-friendly” restaurant that it claims is helping the city of Indianapolis meet its sustainability goals.

For your amusement, I’ll provide the opening of the company statement:

“While the newest KFC in Indianapolis features the brand’s familiar red and white design scheme, it’s the color ‘green’ that is really going to have people talking.” 

Granted, the building is LEED-certified, according to the release. But we all know that combining the words “sustainable” and “KFC” in one sentence is an oxymoron of the first degree.

Perhaps notably, KFC’s parent company, Yum! Brands, also counts Taco Bell among its brands. I can’t blame the corporation for attaining LEED certification, of course, even if the fast-food chain represents the antithesis of sustainability. Nonetheless, corporate efforts to scheme investors into thinking the company and its products are actually “sustainable” are not only questionable, but outright laughable.

But hey, at least it got me a good chuckle.

Greenwash: Wendy’s Misses The Point

Photo credit:

Add another one to the list: Wendy’s is the latest company to beef up (yes, I went there) its greenwashing rhetoric: The restaurant chain has launched a new PR campaign claiming to “quench consumer demand for healthy beverages.”

The chosen partner, in this case, is Nestle Pure Life Purified brand bottled water, which will be added to the restaurant chain’s menu. According to a combined statement from Wendy’s and Nestle, “Nestle Waters North America aims to be a good neighbor, with a focus on environmental sustainability.”

Right. I don’t think I need to point to the elephant in the room here. Not only does the concept of bottled water epitomize environmental unsustainability, but Nestle has actually faced multiple lawsuits on the very issue, according to a FORTUNE article posted by back in 2007.

I could waste time preaching to the choir about the exorbitant amounts of hydro resources, fossil fuels and non-biodegradable plastic that result from the production of bottled water. But there’s another elephant in the room here: Wendy’s — yes, Wendy’s — is claiming to be “healthy” because it is offering its customers water.

Well, it is “Pure Life” water, after all — it must be good for you, and for the planet. But let’s be honest here. No one goes to Wendy’s to be healthy, much less to save the environment. If the restaurant chain were really concerned about consumers’ health, it would be launching a major overhaul of its brand, menu and practices.

But the question I pose is this: Instead of greenwashing consumers, why not just adopt sustainable offerings and practices? Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that the bottom line doesn’t play a role here. But I’m seriously suggesting that companies devote more of their budgets to actually becoming ambassadors of sustainability, rather than wasting marketing dollars on promoting the illusion of it.

I guess that would be too much work.