Ok, so I might have overshot on the analogy front – but bear with me.
Most people will now be aware of the term (and the practice) of #greenwashing (using marketing claims to make people believe that a product or service is doing more to protect society and the environment than it really is).
Companies are coming under more and more scrutiny and those that are exposed as liars are facing an increasingly damning public. We (the purchasing people) have been starting to question ‘green’ claims for some years now, and brands have been shunned and buycotted as a result. And now that Covid-19 has hit us like a freight train, we are bombarded by sober marketing messages telling us ‘we’re in this together’, we’re here for you’, ‘we care’, and so forth – when in reality many of us see these claims for what they probably are – empathic veneers with little or no substance.
BUT are we being too quick to cast the first stone? Surely when facing such enormous challenges as climate change and coronavirus, what we need is unity, sensitivity and a greater understanding of the difficulties companies are facing trying to ‘do the right thing’.
Don’t get me wrong, to all the corporate serial killers out there, who have the money and resources to understand and plan their every action and footprint in minute detail, I’m happy to see them metaphorically locked up and the key well and truly thrown away. This behaviour is pre-meditated and as such no clemency should be shown.
No, I’m talking about the many businesses that are struggling to go straight. They are definitely guilty of cherrypicking the good bits and glossing over the bad, but is this perhaps down to fear, habit, lack of understanding, or naïve self-defence? Underneath this questionable behaviour, are there good businesses with a genuine desire to improve? Would it perhaps be better to try and help them, and not rush to take the moral high ground?
Could we not offer some sort of corporate amnesty, where we pardon previous minor offences and work with companies to help mend their ways?
Rather than aiding and abetting, marketing folk could actually be the saviours here. It is natural for people to have an over-inflated view of their brands, products or services, but some professional cross-examination of claims and statements can flush out the dubious, the doubtful, and the downright delusional. Nip it in the bud so to speak, and help businesses genuinely be better.
Here’s a framework that can help anyone interrogate a claim. It encourages looking at it from a legal and a moral perspective, and:
- checking the facts,
- clarifying the details,
- challenging like a customer, and
- changing where necessary.
If after appropriate cross-examination, and a period of support and rehabilitation, businesses continue to reoffend, THEN let them be weighed and measured. And, where necessary, their freedom to trade lies and manipulation taken from them by the power vested in the ethical judgement of consumers.