Planet 2050

March 02, 2009

Planet 2050

My good friend and colleague Brendan May heads up our corporate responsibility practice ( 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:

1. Yes, they will…There’s little doubt that the political change sweeping the United States partly explains continued corporate attention to issues like climate change. At barely six weeks old, the new administration will take some time to provide a clear sense of what it will and won’t be able to achieve in combating the relentless rise in emissions. There will be many debates and trade-offs ahead. But the ‘chatter’ around the Obama phenomenon is, for now, sufficient for the business community to assume that the old rules will no longer apply, and that scrutiny of their environmental performance will increase rapidly in a way that was inconceivable under the previous regime.
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.
When the world returns to financial health, which it surely will, there will be two types of company left: those fit for purpose and those fit for nothing. The fit for purpose company will be an environmental leader, ready to embrace a new world order.



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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

  • Comms Links 02/03/09
    Posted at 11:42h, 02 March Reply

    […] Planet 2050 […]

  • Paul Seaman
    Posted at 06:01h, 03 March Reply

    Brendan May’s assessment of the recession and its impact on the CSR debate is to be welcomed. I just published my manifesto and it isnt against Corporate Social Responsibility. I just put honesty as the highest responsibility. And I do think the term CSR has such a bad image it should be ditched in favour of sustainability, eventually.

  • Victoria Yip
    Posted at 14:00h, 09 March Reply

    Your post provided sound arguments against skeptics who argued that green business would be an early casualty of the credit crunch. Without a doubt, the fit for purpose company will be an environmental leader, ready to embrace a new world order. And the new world order is running in the trend of going green and environment sustainability. This is not a temporary trend. Companies who advocate the trend of going green and prove success in its environmental protection practices would excel and lead the industry. In addition, I agree completely that corporate responsibility is a fundamental element of corporate reputation-building.Allow me to add on to your discussion using Google as an example.Google released its Clean Energy 2030 plan last fall. It says the country can generate 30% of its electricity from renewable sources, mostly wind and solar, by 2030, and in so doing replacing all coal and oil electricity generation, and about half of that from natural gas. Google itself has venture capital investments in start-ups in solar power, wind and wave energy. The goal to generate 30% of electricity from renewable sources might seem overreaching, and critics argue that the company neglects shareholder value. However, at the Wall Street Journals ECO:Nomics Conference in Santa Barbara, California, Eric Schmidt, Googles CEO, insisted the net benefit of Clean Energy 2030 to the U.S. economy would amount to around $4.4 billion. He believes that the recent financial turmoil should not be a reason to put the plan on hold. Change does not occur when things are going well, he says. Change occurs when people are scared. This is the time to have this conversation. Shareholder value in a company is created at the end of everything we do. Utilizing renewable sources, although with high initial capital investment, is more profitable in the long term. Schmidt says, Green energy, done right, is more profitable than the old kind of energy. Lower costs cause more earnings for shareholders.

    In addition, the Clean Energy 2030 plan does not only build on energy saving issues. As the plan develops, Google claims that around 9 million jobs will be created. The news is a strong boost to society morale amongst the recent announcements of layoffs in the market.

    I believe Googles active role in advocating clean energy explains why the company is continually ranked first in the list of 100 Best Companies to Work For and has an exceptionally high reputation in the industry. Its reputation is tied to its commitment in corporate social responsibility.

  • Natalie
    Posted at 07:27h, 11 December Reply

    Another good post. Home based businesses is becoming quite a phenomenon around the USA.

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