Green Washing 2.0?
A recent e-letter from the Corporate Research Project entitled "Is Big Business Buying Out the Environmental Movement?" speaks to the current surge of environmental enthusiasm in corporate America.
The article reminds me of the early '90s, when we saw environmental fervor in every media publication and many corporate advertisements. The 1990 issue of Time magazine that made "Earth" the Person of the Year was a highlight of this trend. At that time, the world was all about "green," with the twentieth anniversary of Earthday and the Earth Summit in 1992 raising awareness of the environmental concerns of the era. This flashy media hyper-attention fizzled rapidly from a green hue to a light brown as the public channel-surfed to other "issues."
This time around, I am a bit more optimistic that many of corporate America's green efforts of will stick, mainly because the environmental crisis is on full fire-alarm status and it appears that people are afraid... to lose profits.
Yet many corporate giants are simply riding the wave of environmental concern, continuing a trend of greenwashing as a means to obscure their business-as-usual mentality.
I recently visited a friend's home where he had a poster, created by Dow Chemical, highlighting all the spots on the planet that are areas of concern for a particular green topic. I frankly wasn't inspired enough to read on. Furthermore, the more corporations are willing to spend to advertise hollow (or shallow) efforts, the greater the danger to environmental groups who would align with these shenanigans in order to receive much needed funding. As the Corporate Research Project article states:
"There is a risk that the heightened level of collaboration will undermine the justification for an independent environmental movement. Why pay dues to a green group if its agenda is virtually identical to that of GE and DuPont? Already there are hints that business views itself, not activist groups, as the real green vanguard. Chevron, for instance, has been running a series of environmental ads with the tagline 'Will you join us?'
"Join them? Wasn't it Chevron and the other oil giants that played a major role in creating global warming? Wasn't it Chevron that used the repressive regime in Nigeria to protect its environmentally destructive operations in the Niger Delta? Wasn't it Chevron's Texaco unit that dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste in Ecuador? And wasn't it Chevron that was accused of systematically underpaying royalties to the federal government for natural gas extracted from the Gulf of Mexico? That is not the kind of track record that confers the mantle of environmental leadership.
"In fact, we shouldn't be joining any company's environmental initiative. Human activists should be leading the effort to clean up the planet, and corporations should be made to follow our lead."
I agree with the skepticism in the article, since many companies like GE, Union Carbide, Texaco, Exxon and Oxy have not paid a dime to clean up the messes they have made in the past. In fact, they continue to fight tooth and nail in legal battles in order to avoid paying anything!
I'll trust that this time around it is possible that our more informed public will help to create real change in America's business community.
But I'll only be certain that change is happening when we see corporations spend real money to support on-the-ground efforts to address pollution and regenerate ecosystems. Until we see real action and real dollars to restore ecosystems, then we're still only seeing "Greenwashing 2.0" – or worse.
Read the entire article here.