Salad days for green media

Major media outlets are turning to green Web sites, publications and TV shows.

You can hardly walk by a newsstand, Web site or TV station these days without getting the message that going green can save greenbacks and the Earth at the same time.

For Earth Day, big metro newspapers featured green specials, while MTV's Pimp My Ride converted a muscle car to run on biofuel. Magazines as varied as Outside, Vanity Fair and Knit.1 printed green issues this spring (whether they used recycled paper is another matter).

Over the weekend, two more big-media outlets released green offshoots designed to show a mainstream audience that every day can be like Earth Day. The WaPo's new Sprig and Hearst's The Daily Green Web sites target news and how-to tips at a non-granola-crunching crowd.

"You don't have to drop off the grid and live in the woods if you care about design and quality of life...Once you raise people's consciousness about this, it doesn't get unraised," said Mark Whitaker, who led the launch of Sprig as chief editor of Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive, which also publishes

That message is only likely to get louder as more advertisers realize they can use green media to reach shoppers willing to pay more for organic milk or a hybrid car, and who might even contribute to a carbon-neutral fund to soothe their eco-guilt.

Behold the fertile garden of green media:

The Sundance Channel is broadcasting Robert Redford's The Green series of shows. AOL founder Steve Case has backed the Lime network, with a presence online, on cable TV and on satellite radio. Next year the Discovery Channel's PlanetGREEN will play 24/7 on cable. Lifestyle magazines with a green angle include E, Verdant, Good, Sublime, Shift and Plenty.

Green blogs that attract large readerships include WorldChanging and Treehugger--which even has a green index to track how much the media mention green topics, as well as Hugg, its version of Digg. (And CNET has produced green tech pages for more than a year.) There are tons of little and big blogs about sustainable investing, urban planning, design, clothing, cars and living entirely off the grid. What will become of the little guys as more big-budget media step on their pesticide-free turf? Could Sprig threaten, say, Ideal Bite, which also serves quirky green-lifestyle tips to women? Will veteran eco-activist groups like Co-op America get less or more attention? And is preaching to the masses with shopping tips just a lite form of environmentalism?

"We plead guilty as charged," Whitaker of Washington Post-Newsweek Interactive told me. "We think you can accomplish more getting 95 percent of the people to become 5 percent more green than by getting 5 percent to become 95 percent green."

Polls may show that more Americans are caring about--or at least believing in--global warming. Thomas Friedman recently called for a "Green New Deal" in The New York Times magazine. But in the crucial years to come, how many more consumers of green media will pollute less and pay more for greener goods? How Americans rise or sink to the challenge may depend, as it does with advertisers, on the number of greenbacks involved.