Wearing the Green Mantle Carefully

Many companies now emphasizing their green bona fides have found it can backfire if the makeover is more PR than operational. For example, as the green movement got traction in the 1990s, one firm boldly launched a corporate responsibility report in which it announced: “We will … integrate … social and environmental considerations into our internal management and value system” … “[We have] enhanced our efforts to engage external stakeholders on human rights, biodiversity, indigenous rights, transparency and performance measurement.” That was Enron.
There’s a lesson here. Many self-proclaimed “socially responsible” companies, from Nike, to Ben & Jerry’s to Odwalla have seen their corporate images singed by vengeful NGOs and a disappointed public when their rhetoric eclipsed their reality.
Consider The Body Shop, the British cosmetic company founded by the late Anita Roddick. She actively promoted herself as the “Queen of Green.” But her company was left in disarray when an exposé published in one of her favorite magazines, Business Ethics, revealed the problematic practices beneath the green patina: Roddick was proven to have lifted the name, store design, and products from the San Francisco Body Shop that started years before her copycat; her “natural” products were filled with chemical dyes and fragrances; it faced hundreds of millions of dollars in franchise fraud disputes; and its environmental and labor standards were considered retrograde. Corporate responsibility was more a marketing tool than a reflection of its operations. The company’s stock cratered, costing shareholders $600 million, two thirds of her US stores closed, and Roddick was eventually ousted as operating head. The Body Shop has never fully recovered its former luster.
Green marketing is potentially a great marketing and branding tool—if the ethic of responsibility is entrenched into the character of a company and its leaders. Claim only what you can do—and then do it.

Jon Entine is Northlich’s senior counselor of Northlich and Rick Miller its president of public relations.

Comments Off

Deals of the Week

Get $200 Off PR News' Digital PR Conference

Join us June 1-3 where you'll hear from top brands such as Walmart, Miami Heat, Verizon and Ritz-Carlton on PR and communication best practices for the next wave of digital trends.

Use code “200off” at checkout to save $200 on the regular rate.

Get $50 off PR News' Book of Employee Communications


In this 5th volume of PR News’ Book of Employee Communications, our authors cover more than 45 articles on crisis communications, social media policies, human resources collaboration, brand evangelism and more.

Use code “50off” at checkout.

Save $100 on a PR News Subscription


Let PR News become your weekly, go-to resource for the latest PR trends, case studies and tip sheets. Topics covered include visual storytelling, social media, measurement, crisis management and media relations.

Use code “SUBDEAL” at checkout.

Comments are closed.