My good friend and colleague Brendan May heads up our corporate responsibility practice (www.planet2050.com) at Weber Shandwick. He just wrote an article for Climate Change Corp on why sustainability seems to be surviving the downturn, and even prospering. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to mention here.
Corporate responsibility is a fundamental element of corporate reputation-building. Reputations may seem to be under water right now but they are in the process of rebuilding the world over from the ground floor up. Don’t overlook all the reputation-enhancing activities going on under the radar. Online and offline reputation building never ceases and corporate responsibility has become so integral that it has become like the air we breathe. I was glad that he reminded me that Twitter will play a powerful role in online reputation management (#4) and keeping sustainability honest.
As Brendan says: “For those of us who earn our living from sustainability, it’s very risky to assume we are unaffected by the global economic turmoil that graces the front pages and news bulletins on a daily basis. The crisis has implications for the prosperity of the environmental cause, as it does for every product, service or movement. But I would argue that the doomsayers and sceptics who argued that green business would be an early casualty of the credit crunch appear to have been proved wrong.” Five reasons from Brendan on why:
2. Greener is cheaper…There is of course an ironic benefit to the sustainability movement from the current economic caution. Times of austerity and last year’s commodity price volatility have turned many people firmly off the fossil fuel based economy. Combined with the economic stimulus plans being crafted, many of which place the search for new clean technologies at their heart, it is unlikely that people will look back on this global recession as a bad thing for the sustainability movement.
3. Meanwhile, back in Arkansas…Another reason lies in a place called Bentonville, Arkansas, home of course to Walmart’s global HQ. Three years ago, Lee Scott turned the course of that company’s direction. He said all the right things, attracted the right cautious support from NGOs, and certainly secured the attention of the world’s media. Even sceptics conceded that it was a good start, but rightly pointed out the proof of the pudding would be in the eating. Steadily, Walmart has begun to implement its strategy. The most significant recent development is that all suppliers to Walmart are now being required to step up to the plate on sustainability – rightly so as Walmart cannot possibly reduce and eventually neutralise its environmental footprint without its suppliers doing the same.
4. Tweet tweet…Another reason companies are not abandoning environmental priorities is that they simply cannot afford to take their eye off the ball. One thing that won’t disappear in a recession is hard-hitting NGO campaigns. Especially now they have the cheap option of social media at their hourly disposal. Indeed, an effective NGO strike on a business is likely to have a far greater impact in a downturn, when there is such intense competition between companies for market share.
5. After the storm…Lastly, the smart company will already be thinking about how it looks when gradually life returns to normal. How wasteful it would be to have to start all over again. Therefore no matter how difficult things look and feel in these long winter months, the smart thing to do is to prepare the recovery strategy, with sustainability at its heart.