by Greg Walcher, E&E Legal Senior Policy Fellow
As appearing in the Daily Sentinel
When someone seems to be playing fast and loose with numbers, it is an effective comeback to say, “You’ve been told a million times not to exaggerate.” We see it all the time in TV ads, though there is nobody to whom we can make such clever remarks.
My dad was in the advertising business, so we learned various techniques. Several types of exaggeration, considered unethical then, are now routine. Some ads use “facts” that are astonishingly wrong. Others omit context, making the facts seem worse. A new firm called Grove Collaborative begins its ads by asserting that “94,000 trees per day in the U.S. alone are destroyed for toilet paper and tissue.” Wow.
If that’s just for toilet paper, how many trees are sacrificed for all the office paper and junk mail, or for all the lumber and building materials? One environmental website claims 228 billion trees are cut down every year in the U.S., attributing the data (incorrectly) to the Rainforest Action Network. It is a complete misreading of the data — that is the total number of trees growing in the U.S., not the number harvested! Arborist and author Ben McInerney publishes the real numbers. The total U.S. harvest is about 266 million trees per year. Several websites place that number at 3.5 to 7 billion trees, another breathtaking misreading of data. That is the number for the entire world, not the U.S., and even that requires context. A study in the journal Nature estimated that there are over three trillion trees in the world.