Greenwashing in Reverse: Lady Gaga’s Meat Dress

by | Nov 1, 2010

Whenever I am thinking of what would be a good topic around which to build the next posting, I never have to wait long till something pops up. This time…the peculiar intersection of celebrity and the environment.

Maybe you did not see this (it was hard to miss if you read even the mainline press) but in September a “musician” (or actually performance artist) named Lady Gaga showed up at a music awards program dressed in a “meat dress.” You have to read this to believe it as reported by Ecouture magazine website. So, standing next to Cher wearing something “Cher-like” is this celebrity covered in thinly sliced beef. The article comments that “the American chanteuse’s Atkins-approved getup, [was] made entirely of slabs of tenderloin, strip steak, flank steak, and rump roast (about $100 worth of the cheaper cuts, notes one New York butcher).” Who says there is no innovation in the US?

Normally I’d let this one drop without comment but the firestorm of comments about the “environmental impact” (what about mental impact?) was interesting. Pundits reacting pointed out the tremendous impropriety of this getup with perspectives ranging from “people are starving and she’s wasting meat,” to “do you know how much green house gas emissions are contributed by livestock production?” (Turns out a lot – according to a UN Food and Agriculture Organization study reported a few years back – more than transportation.)

If one looks at climate change per ton of protein production (from the Ecouture article) she should have covered herself in peas or soy beans if she wanted to make an environmentally benign statement. Only lamb is worse than beef generating more than 100 tons of CO2 equivalent emission per ton of production.

The fashion industry has had a lot of problems finding the fine line between really sustainable products and the chic eco-fashion that looks good on paper (you know, organic cotton, recycled plastic, etc.) until you realize you could feed a family of 4 in many parts of the world for a year or more on the cost of the item.


If you think I’m off on this, check out the Hungry Planet images posted on Time Magazine website showing what the world eats. The photos document the typical weekly food expenditures of a number of families around the world in local currency and dollars. The family in Chad spends $1.23 a week. Show this to your kids!

The first reasonable reaction to this whole event, the article and the response is – who cares? When is the last time something truly significant, in terms of environmental impact (not withstanding the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster) received so much press? Wouldn’t it be more useful (not to mention the environmental impact of all those computers on and users browsing the Lady Gaga article) to actually discuss things with a bigger potential impact?

This is actually sort of “green-washing” in reverse – meaning the trumping up of a minuscule environmentally impactful event or item with absolutely no potential to grow into something larger (do any of you see a trend to meat clothing?) into something important. This is almost worse than actual greenwashing (recall our discussion on this some postings long ago (July 10 of last year to be exact – see the post).

Just like it’s wrong to overplay quasi-green (or non-existent green) aspects of a product or solution as part of the solution to sustainability, it is wrong to overblow a stunt act into something indicative of the future of the planet. Let’s stay focused on what is actually something or, as they say, when “there is some there, there.”

Also, just to clear any incorrect perceptions, I like meat (especially beef). I was born in Wisconsin and am happy to have farmers raising cows for milk and other uses in the food chain. My shoes contain leather. So, nothing against livestock here.

But back to reality and some “there.”

As a follow up to our discussion about data flows (drinking from a firehose), monitoring and dashboards for energy consumption, I mentioned that I visited the Bosch-Rexroth booth at the IMTS show recently. They sent me some images from the display and this gives some substance to my “Google earth view of manufacturing.” At the lowest end of the “manufacturing view” was the machine with tooling and process details.

The figure below, from Bosch-Rexroth’s MTX CNC Energy and Power Monitor for energy efficiency, shows the monitoring

strategy with the ability to identify the utilization, and losses, associated with power coming in at the bus, output to the motor, output to the mechanical shaft driving the machine tool (moving the workpiece relative to the cutting tool) and to track this in a dashboard, on an axis by axis basis including the consumption of auxiliary components. There is an article on this in the SME Manufacturing Engineering magazine of April, 2010 if you’d like some details. The figure below shows auxiliary consumption for hydraulics, fans/ventilation, cooling unit and spindle cooling.

With this level of detail associated with the process (what am I producing and how are the machine drives responding?) and the auxiliary components (when I’m not producing product what is my machine consuming? Is is worthwhile to shut some of this down while the machine is in changeover or idle?) the machine tool builder can consider alternate stratifies of machine operation and control, and the manufacturer can  (with suitable analysis tools) determine best practices for insuring part quality and minimum energy consumption.

Lots of data but a lot of digestion and presentation so we can handle the deluge…and make decisions.

Now this is worthy of some comments.

To end, I was reading the Economist (September 4, 2010) on a recent plane trip and they had an article titled “Ruses to Cut Printing Costs” with a byline that said “all kinds of technological tricks are being used to reduce the cost and environmental impact of office printers.” I was intrigued. Turns out, people are doing all kinds of things to save resources which, for a laser printer (or ink jet), you can try to optimize “print vs toner” by choosing fonts which are thinner and use less toner or ink per character. The article quotes on source as stating that by switching to Century Gothic (which uses less ink) they saved $80/year/printer. The key was noticing that variability of ink/toner required per letter with different fonts!

Another company, a Dutch firm called Ecofont, came up with software to insert into fonts small holes in the letter that are not visible to the eye. This works best apparently on small fonts. They claim to be able to save 25% in the amount of ink or toner used. That’s green!

And this is sort of the “office” equivalent of minimum quantity lubrication which reduces, dramatically, the amount of cutting fluid needed to machine a component. I mean reductions from thousands of liters to milliliters. We might discuss this some time in the future.

So, if your going to print the data from your firehose make sure it has holes in it…

David Dornfeld is the Will C. Hall Family Chair in Engineering in Mechanical Engineering at University of California Berkeley. He leads the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Sustainability (LMAS), and he writes the Green Manufacturing blog.

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