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Green PR or True Concern ? November 1, 2007

Posted by Celso in Environment, PR.
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With the average consumer’s environmental worries growing, where is the fine line between corporate PR and a genuine environmental concern drawn?

 

Originally posted at celso/oliveira.org

Soon after Dell’s decision to abandon its exclusive online sales model, a handful of business agreements involving retailers were sketched up in order to turn declining sales around at the company that revolutionized the PC industry. The latest of such partnerships involved office supply behemoth Staples, an agreement likely impulsed by an impressive growth in profitability over the last few years. During the same press release announcing the deal, Dell announced that the paper-centered company had just committed to joining two green initiatives: one, a computer recycling effort and the “Plant a Tree for Me” project, both started by Dell Earth.

Corporate sustainability departments and officers are becoming very common these days. Dell is just one example among thousands of companies which are now dedicating human and financial resources towards efforts seeking to minimize the negative effects that CO2 emissions caused on the environment by them. As a matter of fact, it is rare nowadays to find companies under high public scrutiny and visibility that do not publicly display its good deeds on the company’s website, the blogosphere and even on their annual reports.

Consumer Perceptions Change

Consumers are also beginning to take environmental efforts in consideration when choosing a product or service. The public eye has recently become wide opened to the issue of climate change, heightened every single day by wacky weather phenomena and natural disasters. Individuals, inspired by Hollywood types, are increasingly buying hybrid Toyotas and credits to offset their carbon footprints. And let’s not mention that negative sentiment for “dirty” companies is growing at the same rate. As a result, the percentage of consumers influenced by companies’ environmental practices is significant enough to justify any extra costs or increase in prices imposed by companies using less efficient but cleaner energy resources. And because of such changes in consumer perception, companies have significantly increased the publicity efforts surrounding their own environmental initiatives. Has anyone not seen GE’s Ecomagination campaign ?

As Nobel Peace, Oscar and Emmy winner Al Gore would say, the truth about society’s damage to the environment and the expected response from profit seeking entities is nothing short of inconvenient. Yet, most companies still evaluate environmental efforts the same way they evaluate any capital expenditure. This evaluation method causes a natural disincentive for companies to inconveniently act in favor of our planet. Recently, one of the great advocates of corporate environmental responsibility, Aspen’s Skiing Co. corporate sustainability advocate Auden Schendler, explicitly criticized the carbon-credit buying practices of Corporate America, citing questionable results, false advertising claims and a worrisome lack of incentive the extra revenue from CO2 offsetting funds gives carbon-credit issuing companies to build sustainable sources of clean energy. Yet, more companies brag about the result of such practice while still showing tremendous unwillingness to compromise their output in order to get in-house projects approved and going.

So where does the PR game stop and true care for the planet start? Or is this “line” more of a spectrum, with many doing things with both objectives in mind? In other words, is what’s being done by companies today better than nothing? An MBA colleague of mine, founder of Pepperdine’s University’s Value Centered Leadership Lab and huge advocate of corporate social and environmental responsibility believes so. Still, the recent developments involving this hot button issue remind me of the low-carb fad that swept the nation a few years back. The danger of such issues that suddenly gain mass appeal lies on the response of those who aren’t savvy enough to distinguish between a good deed and a golden opportunity to catch the ADD-infested attention span of today’s consumer.