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Does Going Green Give PR a Black Eye?
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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ICYMI: Newsweek has released its "Greenest Companies of 2012." It's no secret that most of them will be tech companies (see what I did there). In fact, here is the list: 

1. IBM - 82.9 Green Score (whatever that means)
2. Hewlett-Packard - 78.5
3. Sprint Nextel - 77.5
4. Dell - 77.1
5. CA Technologies - 77.1
6. Nvidia - 76.3
7. Intel - 75.2
8. Accenture - 74.7
9. Office Depot - 74.4
10. Staples - 74.4

And a big forest-green golf clap to those companies. Note the cynicism? That's the point.

Consider 20 years ago: People littered. Dually trucks and vans were all the rage. And people wanted to do questionable things in the forest other than hugging a tree. Then, Al Gore showed up, invented the Internet, and discussed global warming. Now, it seems that companies everywhere are embracing the fight against the melting of the polar ice caps. I'm grateful for those efforts, but are these heavy eco-CSR campaigns just self-aggrandizing PR stunt or something closer to home? Check out this quote from this year's winner: 

"Environmental sustainability benefits our clients, our company and the planet, and we are constantly striving for continual improvement," said Wayne Balta, IBM's vice president of corporate environmental affairs and product safety, in a news release. "We are grateful for this recognition as it reflects the long term commitment of IBM and its people to environmental leadership throughout the company's global business operations."

See that order? Clients are first (money). Company is second (ego). Planet is third (oops). Nothing against Wayne here, but it begs the point. It is really about the planet or just a way to shine the big green spotlight upon all of us? It's been 40-plus years since we began celebrating Earth Day in the effort against the Greenhouse Effect or whatever it is we call it these days. Electric cars are great, but no one really buys them. Shunning foreign oil makes cents (pun intended) but that's always 10 years down the road in an election year. And what used to be novel to be environmentally conscious has become trendy to compare green bullet points. 

And then the cynics come out of the uncut, ribbon-wrapped-around-the-old-oak-tree woodwork. 

Now, there is a new term to add to the vernacular of the Feng Shui treehugger: "Greenwash." This term became popular a couple of years ago when companies became so blatant eh, public about their eco-friendly efforts that it became annoying. Only PETA does that. Whenever a passion becomes fodder for comedy skits and Tylenol PM, you know it's time to reconsider. Consider Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. How many poor, third-world kids does one couple really need to adopt anyway? See? That's good for a giggle because it's public knowledge of overkill.

Back to the point: Greenwashing is also a term used against the PR industry. As in, it's our fault that companies are so public about their green forward faces. Are these efforts genuine or is there another form of green motivating those efforts? I really can't say, but it appears I just did. You be the judge (not about me...about the other thing).

   

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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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