Future Perfect The Sheep In Wolf's Clothing
Since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, editors of the online magazine LAMM ask questions in the name of sustainable consumption. Corporations, watch out!
You and I, we are critical consumers who reflect a lot. For example: Does Starbucks really compost its mountains of coffee grounds? How exactly did furniture company Tom, Dick & Harry procure the tropical wood for its beach chairs? Ruminating on such questions may be a mark of good citizenship, but to really change things you need raise them before the right people.
Inform, raise questionsAlexandra Tiefenbacher has a lot of questions as well. And she wants answers. From Starbucks, from the exotic wood furniture company, and from many other corporations that, in her opinion, could run their businesses more ecologically. In Zürich-Altstetten, where the online mgazine LAMM is headquartered, Tiefenbacher and her colleagues brood over such issues and over their causes and possible solutions. This sustainability magazine takes a closer look at corporations where we, the others, just turn a blind eye and keep consuming.
LAMM, which is the German word for lamb and the editorial team’s preferred nickname, is a flock of curious environmental, legal, and political experts as well as professional editors who joined forces as a student association in 2009. They self-mockingly call themselves the League of Extraordinary Monday Mailers, the German acronym of which is LAMM. Their mission: Inform readers of their website montagsmailer.ch about sustainable or supposedly sustainable consumption and turn people into more critically minded consumers.
Ask the world more questionsWhen Tiefenbacher wrote her first critical letter to the editor in 2009, it was not her intention to launch a sustainability magazine. At the time, the recently graduated environmental scientist and educator was hopping from one internship to the next and had a lot of time to ponder. She wrote to the daily newspaper Tagesanzeiger in order to ask the city of Zürich on why it did not offer a bio-waste pickup service. The newspaper printed Tiefenbacher’s email; the city of Zürich promptly replied. Surprised by the fact that a question—her question!—had actually elicited a reply, she decided to ask more questions. And so she founded the League of Monday Mailers together with her roommate and another friend.
Today the flock consists of 15 dedicated volunteer "lambs." They all work hard to supply their 4,000 readers from Switzerland and Germany with sensitive consumer criticism. “We are a completely independent medium,” says Tiefenbacher, “and we thus shed a much brighter, much more critical light on consumer goods than other environmental magazines.”
Honest criticism encourages responsible behaviorEach Monday, the Monday Mailers send an e-mail to a corporation, asking a question that has been on their own or their readers’ minds. The letter is always written in the vein of a satisfied yet critical customer. For example, a make-believe customer questioned a large travel provider that falsely labels its hotels as eco-certified. Question and reply are published on the LAMM website, embedded in an article with background information and comments. “About 50 percent of contacted companies reply directly, another 25 percent reply following an email reminder,” says Tiefenbacher. The corporations in question don’t know that the "lambs" are behind this – because they pose as concerned consumers or clients.
“Some may find this sort of journalism a bit radical,” the editor-in-chief admits. And corporations probably view the Monday Mailers as a horde of eco-fanatics who are out to get productive companies. But LAMM does not seek to slander or vilify. Their intention is to voice candid criticism in order to encourage companies to act more responsibly toward humanity and nature. “Consumer concerns—and we are, after all, consumers—are taken more seriously and answered more frankly than media inquiries,” Tiefenbacher knows.
Getting the ball rolling with logic and an everyday angleWhat’s surprising about LAMM articles is the angle from which the editors tackle a specific topic. “We try to use a different communication approach than most environmental organizations, we try to argue with logic,” the president of the League explains. Montagsmailer.ch strives to be a "magazine of reason," free from tear-jerking or finger-wagging tactics. The participants want to persuade with intelligent and objective arguments that make sense even to people who are not environmentally aware. Their articles always have a practical background and don’t present sustainability as a theoretical notion but rather as a facet of everyday life. The articles in the section “A day in the life of a lamb,” for example, are amusing and informative testimonials of the editors’ own attempts at sustainable living—even the failed ones.
The Monday Mailers strive for "true" sustainability journalism with academically solid articles because environmental expertise is the foundation and journalism is merely its channel. The work pays off: More and more corporate employees report that the journalistic coverage of their corporation helped them get the ball rolling within their companies. Readership is steadily rising, and more and more people ask if they can join the LAMM editorial team.
By the way, five years after Tiefenbacher’s letter to the editor, taking organic waste out to the curb has become a normal routine for the people of Zürich. While the success of bio-waste pickup is not directly the result of the lambs’ efforts, their questions certainly didn’t hurt. The little lambs have grown into a proud, solid flock that will work to make a difference beyond the confines of their own paddocks. Will they change the landscape? For once, here’s a question that is easy to answer.