The greening of the U.S. of A. still has a ways to go. We’re plundering Canada’s tar sands and mining the Midwest’s topsoil to keep our cars on the road. We lay waste to ton after ton of Chinese coal to fuel our cheap-stuff habit. And so on.

But if our habits remain environmentally ruinous, the strategies we use to sell stuff have gone decidedly green.

From today’s Wall Street Journal, a wrap-up of the year in advertising:

Green is the new black.

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Madison Avenue tried to curry favor with consumers this year by coloring products and brands with an environmental tint. A long list of companies such as General Electric Co., Chevron Corp. and Home Depot Inc. all jumped on the eco-friendly bandwagon.

Then there’s this bit: “One Toyota Motor Corp. ad featured a Prius being created from straw, twigs and other natural elements. The gasoline-electric hybrid car is built up and then fades back into nature.”

I find that pretty cheeky. The one serious knock on the Prius is that it consumes enormous resources in production. On a life-cycle basis, as I understand it, a conventional used car with good gas mileage is a greener buy than a freshly minted Prius. The Toyota ad seeks to obliterate this inconvenient fact, peddling the fantasy that Priuses emerge pristinely from nature.

In general, the advertising industry exists to move product, to urge us to consume as much as possible; and we’re at a point in time when it would be really, really smart to consume less. So my question on this last day of the year is: does the green-is-the-new-black trend augur an era of less, and smarter, consumption — or is it the death rattle of a movement in the process of being subsumed into a culture of ravenous consumption?

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Or none of the above?

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