Clean PR

Clean Tech. PR. Sustainable Business.

The future is… Greenwashing?

Washing a car Does anyone like that term? I think we should stop using it. It is referenced in another article titled, Industry climate moving toward green practices in PR Week. To make sure that phrase and all of the negative implications it represents for the green industry dies, we should ask ourselves a few simple questions before pitching a story:

  • Did your green/CSR story originate and end in the PR department? 
  • Is your company telling a green story because they don’t want to miss out on the news of the day (or the year)?

For a lot of companies, the answer to these questions is probably yes. Embrace that and come up with your Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. The story will follow.

A story that has real roots in sustainability is pretty hard to come by; it needs to be engrained throughout the organization and that requires a culture of sustainability. Not just some messaging and talking points. Look at a few local California companies like Patagonia and Clif Bar. Sustainability is part of their DNA. It goes from their production processes and their choice of materials, to how they treat their employees and how they give back to the community. It wasn’t always in their DNA. Their business practices and choices have evolved over time to become more sustainable. It has taken a long time, and the praise and brand building that comes with the choices they made is part of the process, but it’s not why they made the choices they did.

Obviously not every company can be a Clif Bar or Patagonia. But if you fall on the opposite spectrum and you’re “chasing” green for the sake of being green, than you’re inevitably going to hit the greenwashing wall. There are critics and they will call you out and the shelf life of your story will be short-lived. This doesn’t mean you can’t discuss a roadmap for your CSR initiatives if you’re still early in the process. Your customers or shareholders will likely be interested, and it will help lay the groundwork for when you have results to show. This greenwashing term applies to the people claiming exaggerated or false truths, thus adding confusion and slowing progress and mainstream acceptance.

The greenwashing concept applies much more to the hundreds of PR firms who have current clients looking to jump on the bandwagon and tell a CSR/green story, not to be confused will all the companies currently creating green products and services aimed at making sustainable business and living a reality. A lot of the true clean tech companies don’t yet have formal public relations efforts in place. They should be excited about the opportunities ahead of them. The organizations making an effort to adopt more sustainable practices need new products and services, and they won’t know what to buy without a proactive and well thought-out approach to communications.

The reason for this blog post. The idea of greenwashing concerns me. Most people and companies are relatively new to green concepts and probably are not aware that the green community might view their good intentions as greenwashing. Taking this viewpoint and assuming that people are for the most part good, the PR industry must move forward with great energy, but also great care. I studied economics and have worked mostly with venture capitalists and technology companies. I understand clean tech and PR, but I cannot yet call myself a corporate social responsibility guru. Not many people can. That leads to mistakes. But an honest, educated and grounded approach to communications can get us to where we need to go.

My reference point for this is what I’ve seen at my firm, Text 100 Public Relations. We’ve had enthusiastic, smart, ethical, experienced and driven people in offices around the world raising their hands to join our clean tech group. They believe in its potential. I’m proud to be part of the initiative, and am confident that we can do our part to take this industry forward, greenwashing not included.

Good reading: Let My People Go Surfing by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouninard.

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January 17, 2007 - Posted by | clean tech, green marketing, public relations, sustainable business

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