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Henk Campher headshot

The Quick & Dirty: Time to Call BS

By Henk Campher

Most of us in sustainability (CSR, citizenship, social change, activism etc) are shell shocked. Donald Trump is the President-elect for the United States of America. I am not going to tell you how sick that is and how sick that makes me feel. What I want to know - what are we in this space going to do about it? How are we going to win this game of making the world a better place in a world of President Trump? I have a few ideas...

Let's start by calling BS when we see it. I am tired of seeing rankings and awards in this space dominated by fossil fuel companies and crappy fast food joints. That is just simply not good enough. We measure how companies reduce their impact and applaud them for that. It is a hollow victory when their biggest impact - their products or services - is in direct opposition to what we are trying to do. Not every business is equal and it is time we acknowledge that and call it as it is.

Let's call BS when companies claim leadership in our space but the value chain says otherwise. And I am not talking about the obvious wrongs like child labor or conflict minerals. Those are already called out. I am talking about the other parts of the supply and value chain that remains mostly hidden. Let's look at the banks these "leaders" use. Let's see what membership they signed up for. Let's judge the lawyers and lobbyist they hire. The politicians they support. And let's call out the PR, advertising and communications agencies they pay to convince us they are so cool. You can't be taken seriously if you hire the same agency employed by major fossil fuel companies or climate deniers.

Let's call BS on the incrementalism that has taken over our thinking. We measure and report to GRI as if that is some holy grail. It is a measurement tool not a strategy. We applaud ourselves for turning off the taps and switching off the lights. Business thrives on risk but somehow we refuse to take risks when it comes to creating the world we need for better business and a better society. This is not leadership. This is incremental nonsense. This is not how we stop the tide. This is not how we reverse climate change or deal with any of the largest challenges we face as a world.

Let's call BS on crappy communications. We absolutely suck at communicating. We are the most uninspiring lot of experts ever. We navel gaze and slap our own backs. We go to conferences where most of the sessions make us fall asleep. We put out ads that are boring and silly. I took a picture of one I saw at SFO about how they reduced their energy use. Really? This is as bad as it gets. A figure that no consumer understands or will feel inspired by and a reference to a lightbulb that isn't even the highest standard out there anymore. It's kicking the Kicking The Puppy approach and doesn't work. Not for the change we need.

I'll start calling BS with my industry. Just this week I got an ad for a major PR agency in my Facebook feed raving about the latest PR award they won. Really? This is what you stand for and then you want to say you somehow make the world a better place? BS. You can't work for Koch Industries AND work in this space as a respected agency. Your goal is either to create a more just, equitable and sustainable world or not. You pick. But don't fool yourself about your role in this space. Be comfortable with who you are and be true to who you are but let's not fool ourselves that all agencies are the same when it comes to this.

It doesn't mean incremental isn't needed. It doesn't mean that you can't be "just a PR agency." Those are all good. It's just not what we need for the big shifts that we need in this world. We need to make the big plays. The moonshots. And we need to call BS on those who distract us from that or who hold us back.

Now I will go back and cry a little bit more. President Trump... Damn. Time to wake up.

Henk Campher headshot

A series of quick & dirty opinion pieces by Henk Campher out in the Wild West of San Francisco. Disrupter of purpose. Engineer of big ideas. Slayer of myths. Social media junkie - @angryafrican. He never wears ties. Ever. But always wears an accent with a strategy and opinion in his back pocket. Please note this series will not focus on individual companies and any reference is purely to provide color commentary. He wrote a book once.

Read more stories by Henk Campher