When ex-Sierra Club president Adam Werbach and then the Environmental Defense Fund signed on to WalMart’s payroll, it raised more than the eyebrows of environmentalists, to put it mildly. Scathing criticism and cynical commentary inevitably followed. But in an environment where “being green” is increasingly good business, corporations are increasingly seeking to enlist the aid of – and gain endorsements from – environmental organizations.
Businesses’ efforts to “go green” carry more weight and are more credible when they are endorsed by third-party environmental groups, particularly those whose efforts have an impact on their local communities, according to 75% of respondents to an “Eco-concerns” survey recently released by Peppercom’s GreenPepper division and conducted by San Francisco’s Media-Screen.
“Nearly two-thirds of the 100-plus company executives surveyed launched eco-friendly initiatives within the past year, but much of what has been showcased is viewed among consumers as greenwashing,” said Ann Barlow, president of Peppercom’s West Coast office and head of GreenPepper. “That’s why it’s important for companies to seek opportunities for guidance from and collaboration with NGOs at all levels, particularly those that are locally or regionally based. They can help companies focus on the most important investments and changes to make.”
Skeptics may at times rightfully point to such new and unlikely alliances and partnerships as window dressing, greenwash, and early indications that environmental organizations are willing to compromise their values and sell themselves and the public good out to corporate interests in the same way that politicians are often accused of doing.
Sure, by jumping on the “green” bandwagon corporations are looking out for their own best interests. But globally concerted action – and a lot of it, according to observations, analysis and scientific consensus – is needed now if we are to at least mitigate the threats posed by climate change and the ongoing release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
Besides being pushed by public interest into greater environmental accountability and responsibility, there are corporate executives and government leaders – and many more people working within these sectors – out there pulling for substantive action and change as well. It seems natural, productive and progressive at this juncture that business leaders, environmentalists and government stake out some common ground and get to work on finding viable solutions.
All that said, such alliances are very much the exception rather than the rule. Historically antagonistic with government as the mediator, a gaping chasm typically separates the motives, values and objectives of commercial and environmental organizations, as well as the means by which they are willing to achieve them.
Results from GreenPepper’s survey revealed that although a number of companies have forged such partnerships, a significant percentage said they haven’t. A lack of trust or common goals, and uncertainty about which NGOs to seek out were among the reasons cited.
Most consumers consider NGO web sites, web search engines and friends and family the most trustworthy sources of information on corporations’ environmental practices, according to survey results.
While respondents cited prominent international organizations such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and the World Wildlife Fund as top sources, dozens of regional and local organizations were also mentioned. ”
“Consumers are most interested in connecting locally with environmental groups because what they and local corporations do together to solve environmental problems has a significant impact on their community. This provides opportunities not only for smaller NGOs to partner with companies of all sizes in their communities, but the local and regional operations of national and international NGOs as well,” Garvin Jabusch, principal at Green Alpha Advisors, stated in a media release.