Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Buy Some Groceries, Raze A Forest

You can't go anywhere lately without hearing about another corporation undertaking a major "green" initiative, trying to position itself as a good steward of the environment. Bottled water companies tout thinner plastic bottles, manufacturers publish corporate responsibility reports bragging of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, and oil companies  advertise their alternative energy projects.  Coca-Cola rolled out a partially plant-based bottle (which didn't exactly win over the tree-huggers).

These companies' intentions often seem more than a little suspect. If oil companies were truly concerned about finding renewable energy sources, wouldn't those advertising dollars be better spent on more alternative energy research?  I guess that's why the environmentalists created the Greenwashing Index, ranking the purity of companies' motives.

Grocery stores haven't shied away from jumping on the sustainability bandwagon.  These days, most stores offer some kind of credit for customers who show up with their own reusable bags, and Target's plastic bags even come pre-printed with suggestions for re-use (lining trash cans, suffocating enemies, holding flaming poop for porch pranks, and so on).  Just after I started writing this very blog post, an email showed up in my work inbox explaining how Safeway is "greening up" it's store brand paper towels. There's no escaping it--sustainability is everywhere.

Yet somehow, flying directly in the face of all these save-the-environment efforts, I've noticed an unusual trend: insanely long grocery store receipts.  A few weeks ago, I bought three items at Rainbow Foods: a dozen eggs, a loaf of bread, and a jar of peanut butter. I spent more time waiting for my receipt to print--all sixteen inches of it--then I'd spent shopping:

I understand the need for receipts--if you have to return something, if you need to show proof of purchase for some reason, then a receipt makes sense.  But I could write a decent blog post (at least by my low standards) on the back of the receipts that cashiers have been handing me lately. A receipt should show what you bought, when you bought it, and how much you paid for it. Throw in the name and address of the store, and a three-item receipt doesn't need to be any longer than four inches.

What's taking up all that space? No, I don't want to take a survey.  I don't care how many extra super bonus points I can earn in the latest supermarket sweepstakes, and I don't need a reminder on how much I saved by purchasing sale items during my shopping trip.  Every time I walk up to the checkout and watch that scroll of receipt tape pour out of the register, I can't help but picture this:

Quickly turning into this:

Mark my words, it's only a matter of time before grocery stores realize they're sitting on an enormous "green receipt" opportunity. Expect a future filled with annoyingly stubby receipts crammed with illegible, microscopic font. Knowing corporate sustainability efforts, grocery stores will likely print millions of additional, completely pointless, unnecessary pages for their weekly circulars, reminding customers how they're saving the environment by taking 30,000 miles of receipt tape out of customers' hands.  

It's nice to see corporate America extending Mother Nature a helping hand, even if they're simultaneously kicking her in the shin. The future looks very bright...and now, I'm off to fold up my Rainbow receipt and turn it into a car cover for the Malibu.

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