Category: Green Washing


“Public scrutiny of business is constant and intense, and in the past decade, disillusionment has grown over excesses in executive pay, questionable accounting practices, drug recalls, and moral laxity on the part of corporations.” — Paul A. Argenti, Professor of Management and Corporate Communication at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College

Should communication students be encouraged to work for publicly traded companies either from inside the corporation or providing external advice as a hired gun at public relations or advertising agency?

Or should these very same students be galvanized against the excesses of capitalism, demonstrating against Wall Street under the banner of social justice?

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Are these questions mutually exclusive? Are you either for or against capitalism or for or against social justice?

These questions are magnified and intensified against the backdrop of underachieving employment, wage and real estate markets, while the NYSE and NASDAQ remain persistently bullish.

It appears this persistent economic scenario quite possibly will greet graduating students at least for the next academic year or two.

Examples of Corporate Excess

Finding examples of corporate excess is relatively easy.

Almost DailyBrett has joined the scads of other bloggers that take issue with seemingly brain-dead or just plain greedy antics by the leadership of large-cap publicly traded companies:

  • The author’s former company, LSI Logic, provided a seven-or-eight figure Golden Parachute to former CEO Abhi Talwalkar as he drove the 33-year-old specialty semiconductor designer into the abyss.
  • Spirit Airlines famously stiffed a decorated 76-year old, dying of cancer Marine veteran asking for a mere $197 refund, telling him literally to pound sand because he didn’t buy trip insurance. The carrier generously offered a partial credit, if he succumbed to the Grim Reaper before his flight.
  • October is right around the corner and that means (drum roll) even more corporate efforts to tie marketing bonanzas to Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Both 5-hour ENERGY and “Buckets for the Cure” KFC have become global leaders when it comes to “Pink Washing.”
  • Largest corporate bankruptcy-ever, Enron, is the poster-child when it comes to corporate greed and wrongdoing. And yet there were innocent people who were just trying to do their job, including telling the corporate story, until they realized they too were being misled.

Considering these examples and literally hundreds more, it is easy to give a broad-sweeping thumbs-down to multi-national corporations. At the same time, it should be remembered that these companies make the products and provide the services that we use on a daily basis (e.g., Apple = Macs, iPads, iPhones, iPods). They hire and provide benefits to literally tens of thousands (e.g., Boeing, 168,400; Starbucks, 160,000; Amazon, 88,400; Nordstrom, 58,140), Microsoft, 55,455). They provide wealth-accumulation prospects for the 54 percent of Americans who buy stocks, mutual funds and bonds (e.g., America’s investor class), including 73 percent of college graduates, and 83 percent of post-graduates.

Profit Motive

One of the major beefs espoused by the Occupy Wall Street movement three years ago, and the Flood Wall Street demonstrators earlier this month, is that publicly traded companies are focused on profits. These statements are accurate, but it should also be pointed out that companies have a legal (e.g., Employee Retirement Income Security Act or ERISA 1974) and moral (e.g., Fiduciary) obligation to produce the best bottom-line return possible for shareholders. Failure to do so invites almost certain civil and possible criminal litigation against the companies and potential dismissal of C-level executives.

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As a master’s degree candidate four years ago at the University of Oregon, the author of Almost DailyBrett noted the unrestrained celebration of competitive advantage and buy low/sell high mantra at the business school, and the unrestrained embrace of social justice including redistribution of income at the journalism school.

It seemed that one would build a statue of Adam Smith, while the other would throw flowers at the feet of Che Guevara. One would urge students to work and advise corporate America and the other would implore becoming an activist, marching, demonstrating and hopefully not being arrested.

Which is the better option for graduating students in making corporate America, particularly fallible publicly traded companies, more responsive to communities, the environment and let’s not forget, its own employees?

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility or CSR should not be seen as an oxymoron. The concept of doing good (CSR) should not be viewed as contradictory to doing well (fiduciary responsibility). Graduates of communications, journalism and business schools can and should emphasize the value of doing BOTH to improve the bottom line for investors, including employees, while doing good deeds for communities, the planet and the rank-and-file employees.

Certainly the likes of Occupy Wall Street, which never found a unifying message, and Flood Wall Street, which tied capitalism to climate change, have their First Amendment Rights to (preferably) peacefully demonstrate. These NGOs need trained communicators and message developers.

Conversely, graduates could also choose to work internally to make companies better. They can stand for both fiduciary and corporate social responsibility. They can advocate against excessive C-level compensation. They can take stands against Pink Washing and Green Washing. They can ensure that the public is provided with good products at fair prices and everyone is treated with dignity and respect.

And heaven forbid, if another Enron is in the offing, they can courageouly tell the uncomfortable truth using their communication skills.

Is it better to be inside the corporation under the banner of capitalism or out in the streets (or in tents) calling for social justice?

There is more than one way to make corporate America better for everyone.

http://exec.tuck.dartmouth.edu/about-us/faculty/paul-argenti

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/22/flood-wall-street-arrests_n_5865468.html

http://nypost.com/2014/09/22/climate-change-protesters-flood-wall-street/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/farewell-lsi-logic/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2012/05/06/lessons-from-the-spirit-airlines-pr-debacle/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/evil-spirit-airlines/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/5-hour-pink-washing/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/shameless-5-hour-energy/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2012/10/11/buckets-for-the-cure/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2013/02/08/what-would-you-do-if-you-were-enrons-pr-chief/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/fiduciary-responsibility-vs-corporate-social-responsibility/

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/06/03/adam-smith-vs-che%e2%80%99-guevera/

 

 

It had to happen. Highly compensated marketing and advertising pros take one overused public relations buzzword and simply jam it together with another overused public relations buzzword. In one particular case, wouldn’t you expect a little bit more creativity from a $40 billion global company with 290,000 employees?

And yet FedEx has adopted the tag “Sustainable Solutions” to tell its green story, even with a tantalizing one-minute animated television spot. The tale with cute animal tails (see link below) depicts how FedEx trucks and planes are doing good for the planet, while burning fossil fuels to ship a package from point A to FedEx’s mega-package distribution center in Memphis, Tennessee before sending it on to point B, which actually may be closer to point A in the first place…if you follow me.

When I was living in Pleasanton, CA, located in the East Bay, I was selling two tickets via StubHub for the September 2009 Oregon vs. California football game in Eugene, OR. Not surprisingly a buyer from Berkeley wanted the tickets. StubHub provided me with the shipping label to fedex (corporate verb) the tickets from my Pleasanton house in Alameda County to the buyer’s Berkeley house 34 miles to the west in Alameda County.

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I was provided with a tracking number and followed the trail of my two Oregon seats for sale. Did they go from FedEx in Pleasanton over the 580 freeway and then to 880 to Berkeley, a trip that takes about 40 minutes in traffic? You guessed it. They were transported by FedEx in one of its sustainable trucks to a sustainable plane 2,061 miles across two-time zones to Memphis, offloaded at the Memphis Airport, processed, reloaded and then reshipped 2,061 miles in a sustainable plane back across the same two-time zones to the Bay Area and then driven in a sustainable truck to the final destination about 34 miles from my house.

How’s that for a sustainable solution? For a 34-mile trip, my package traveled 4,156 miles. Sorry, I still don’t get it.

In fairness to FedEx, my two tickets, placed and sealed in a recycled package, were transported by FedEx in one of its electric trucks to a low-emission plane 2,061 miles across two-time zones to Memphis, offloaded at the Memphis Airport, processed, reloaded and then reshipped 2,061 miles in a low-emission plane back across the same two-time zones to the Bay Area and then driven in a low-emission truck to the final destination about 34 miles from my house.

The FedEx “Sustainable Solutions” story is grounded in electric trucks, recycled materials and low-emission planes, which should help the “shipping giant” dodge a “greenwashing” charge. However, the question needs to be asked: Is it really green if all roads and flight plans lead to Memphis IT processing regardless of the destination of the package? Maybe there is a logical explanation, but FedEx will have a hard time explaining the environmental benefits of shipping my tickets first to Memphis in order to ship them back to Berkeley.

To top it off, FedEx with its new marketing tag may be infringing on or borrowing from the plethora of firms that call themselves (drum roll): “Sustainable Solutions.” There is Sustainable Solutions International as in building products http://www.sustainablesolutions.com/. And there is Sustainable Solutions Unlimited as in solar products http://solutions21st.com/. And yes, there is Sustainable Solutions Corporation that educates clients about sustainable solutions http://www.sustainablesolutionscorporation.com/. And not to be outdone, there is Sustainable Solutions LLC, a natural resource consulting company in the citadel of infinite wisdom, Washington, DC http://www.sustainablesolutionsllc.net/. Overall, there are almost 10 million Google search results for “Sustainable Solutions.”

Almost one year ago, Almost DailyBrett commented on how the public relations industry was pounding certain buzzwords, reducing them to cliché status as a result of their reflexive overuse and overhyping. The words (and phrases) include: Brand, Cloud, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), Organic, Solutions, Sustainable, Thinking Out of the Box and Thought Leadership. And all of them can be incorporated, as Almost DailyBrett demonstrated, into one mega run-on sentence courtesy of the PR industry:

“Today we are thinking out of the box in leveraging a portfolio of organic, sustainable cloud computing solutions that enhance your company brand, while demonstrating thought leadership and exemplifying your dedication to corporate social responsibility.”

Almost DailyBrett paid special recognition to Microsoft for taking two buzz words and incorporating them into the same ad: “Most Comprehensive Solutions for the Cloud on Earth” or “Cloud Power.” This year, FedEx is dispensing with all the additional words and just jamming “Sustainable” and “Solutions” together.

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Maybe FedEx could get more bang for their green marketing buck by combining three overused PR buzzwords instead of just two. How about: “Organic Sustainable Solutions?” Surely, FedEx’s electric trucks, recycled materials and low-emission planes can be certified by some organization as “organic.” If “Sustainable Solutions” assists FedEx in telling its Corporate Social Responsibility story, then “Organic Sustainable Solutions” would be even better from a CSR standpoint and maybe even when it comes to Thought Leadership as well.

Now how can FedEx work the “Cloud” into the “Organic Sustainable Solutions Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) campaign? Certainly clouds are organic and Darwin knows they are sustainable.

The real issue is the word, “Sustainable.” The word is everywhere, and it seems to be used by everyone. Heck, I am taking “Sustainable Business” right now. And if “Sustainable” is used everywhere by everyone when does it start becoming noise? And if “Sustainable” becomes the equivalent of verbal elevator music, then does it eventually lose its currency with the general public? And if this currency is spent, then who is responsible? Are PR and marketing pros guilty of literally loving buzz words and phrases to death? That’s not sustainable.

http://www.commercialsihate.com/fedex-sustainable-solutions–video_topic11750.html

https://almostdailybrett.wordpress.com/2011/02/20/pounding-pr-buzz-words-to-death/

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