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EARTHWATCH

Green Suits Them : An agency gives its prospective clients the ecological third degree.

May 23, 1991|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The man in the gray flannel suit is now wearing green. Madison Avenue is becoming interested in the environment.

Here in California, we have, as might be expected, a leading example of this sort of thing. I'm not talking about Exxon ads showing us that the Valdez spill wasn't so bad after all. I'm talking about an advertising agency, Stephen Garey Associates of Santa Monica, which subjects potential clients to an ecological third degree before taking them on.

One client is Evergreen Oil, an Irvine-based oil recycling firm.

Garey asserts that his company doesn't represent anyone who isn't an ecological straight-shooter. So I thought I would check it out. Sure enough, one road pointed home.

One of the places from which Evergreen picks up used oil is a business right here in Ventura County. I talked to Ron Powers, head of Cosmetic Specialties Inc., a Ventura manufacturer that packages items for the cosmetics industry. Powers' machines use oil, and just like a car, they need to be drained and refilled periodically.

"My oil is pretty good," Powers said. "If I could figure out a way, I'd recycle it myself." Instead, he calls Evergreen's local people.

Powers is part of a network--half a dozen in the county plus about 8,000 locations statewide--where Evergreen collects used oil for recycling. Recycled oil? Yecch! Won't that ruin my engine?

"Your engine will never know the difference. The Earth will," Garey said.

The media have been full of stories of government and consumer backlash where companies have suddenly "gone green" without really changing any of their bad old habits or ingredients; as with the recent flap over biodegradable garbage bags, which weren't.

California state laws are at work. The Department of Health Services mandates that all oil must be recycled. You and I can't just pour it down the drain. We have to call a recycler to take it away, or take it ourselves to one of the 20 public centers in the county.

Operating as they do in the world of the government-regulated, Evergreen has had to leave a paper trail. I was able to follow it and so was Garey.

In the movie, the man in the gray flannel suit, Gregory Peck, comes home depressed after having been fired by his "account." Times are changing. Stephen Garey was recruited in person by the chairman of Evergreen. That's not new. What's new is that, if Evergreen slips up environmentally, Garey might fire them.

* FYI

* To locate used oil drop-off sites in Ventura County, call (800) 553-2962. This is a hot line operated by the State of California Integrated Waste Management Board.

* To get a copy of the annual "Shopper's Guide to a Better World," call (800) 822-6435.

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