Recent issues of Alternatives Journal, the Waterloo-based environmental magazine, have contained the unusual and, frankly, unexpected: two-page spread advertorials for Suncor Energy.
Readers and contributors have apparently been weighing in on the appropriateness of this and it is commented upon in the September/October issue in both the editor's letter and in a feature by Stephen Bocking, a regular contributor to Alternatives and chair of environmental and resource science studies at Trent University.Editor Nicola Ross writes in her regular letter to the readers:
"In the five years I've spent as editor of Alternatives nothing has been as controversial as the Suncor Energy advertorials that have been running in this magazine. Many of you have taken advantage of the opportunity to read the opinions of Gord Lambert, this tar-sands company's vice president of sustainability. Some have even had their questions answered by Suncor on our magazine's pages. Others, however, have bristled at these paid editorials."
The current Suncor spread (clearly labelled "advertorial") is authored by Lambert, headed Enabling a National Energy Strategy and illustrated with a colourful "wedge model", arguing for "solution-oriented engagement":
"While it is easy to articulate what we don't want, it is more difficult to describe what we desire. The NIMBY syndrome generally focuses on the former. To set a higher bar, we need to ask and answer the question: what are we for?
I propose that for every stance someone takes against something, he or she has to articulate his or her view on a solution or suggest a clear option. This will ensure that we get the discourse we need to develop and sustain a National Energy Strategy over time."
Bocking writes somewhat more passionately about the situation and the topic in his article "Our Wicked Addiction" (not posted online):
"These advertorials are something new for Alternatives. For some readers, they are a step backwards. The format is an issue: Blurring the boundary between paid and editorial content also raises concerns. But it's mainly the topic. The tar sands are causing obvious damage to the planet: Talk of improving them seems to echo the twisted concept of "healthy" cigarettes."