Terminology such as Corporate Responsibility (CR), Corporate Responsibility & Sustainability (CRS), Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) are often used, and they all have different meanings to different organizations. Words bring ideas to life, make new concepts familiar, and change the way we see the world.
EMG presents a new series of Sustainable Business Innovations and Sustainability Thought Leadership interviews among clients and other parties in our network with the goal of inspiring more people about the benefits of integrating corporate responsibility into profitable business. The interviews include executives, senior government and NGO officials, prominent financiers and heads of CSR for some of the world’s largest multinationals.
See specific cases of CSR and Sustainability Thought Leadership – examples of companies that do it right applying good values in their CRS strategy, reporting and communications.
When companies present their products it’s easy for them to simplify, even oversimplify, and still get their message across. Here’s a positive example. Method cleaning company claims a “people friendly” product of theirs ‘cleans like hell and smells like heaven’. It’s a clever comparison with those similes, because it’s very descriptive and very simple. There’s a real promise in there, yet no-one’s really expecting extremes of heaven and hell. Neat.
We well know that there’s a whole industry dedicated to perfecting copy and – if a client’s important enough – a PR company will devote weeks to perfecting just a single line of text. Millions of pounds are spent on market testing one word to get it right. Yet when it comes to sustainability, life can be very, very tough. Those promoting sustainable development work with inherited terminology cobbled together from science, economics and decades of policy making, pressure group campaigning and academic debate. Should this be an advantage? Maybe so, but this lexicon is often invisible to the majority of the public and at worst can be alienating and off-putting to non-specialists.
And that’s where the green-washing comes in. Let’s look at those tell-tale signs that a company’s up to it. Fluffy language and images, words with no clear meaning, along with oh-so-happy images of unaccompanied minors in a park or area of natural beauty. A businessman in a business suit in a cornfield in the middle of nowhere. Flowers and butterflies emerging from exhaust pipes. The language of sentimental image. What are we actually seeing? Could it be a one-off green product from a not-at-all green company? Or even a not-at-all green product from a not-at-all green company? There’s often an underlying message, such as ‘we only pollute every second day, we’re not good but we’re less bad, we’ve made this from 100% recyclable material (we haven’t made it from recycled material and we don’t want it back, thank you)’.
Then there’s the accreditation from something that turns out not to be exactly a third party, considering the sponsorship, and the lab tests with positive remarks from some 27 global customers… How to address the power of the small print? What is efficiency? What is truth?
‘Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive.’ There’s a lot of green-washing out there and that is why good values in CSR and promotion of CSR are critical.