Greenwashing, Jared, and Stocks: Diamond Looks at Corporations and Sees Green

Will Big Business Save the Earth? This was the title of the New York Times Op-Ed last week by Jared Diamond (UCLA professor and author of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse). I thought we could go through his piece -- piece by piece.

1) He begins:

There is a widespread view, particularly among environmentalists and liberals, that big businesses are environmentally destructive, greedy, evil and driven by short-term profits. I know -- because I used to share that view. But today I have more nuanced feelings.

More nuanced feelings? The New York TImes must not edit for arrogance. Many big businesses are environmentally destructive and driven by profit. That is not a feeling. That is a fact, especially when those big businesses are publicly traded. Since it is a fact, it is not liberal, either. There are plenty of my conservative family and relatives who know these two features of corporate policy (and a lot of humanity, too) to be true.

2) He continues:

Over the years I've joined the boards of two environmental groups, the World Wildlife Fund and Conservation International, serving alongside many business executives.

Why are there so many business executives on the boards of NGOs? This is a question Jared Diamond and his pithy intelligence are poised to answer, but will not.

3) Diamond prefers to point toward the environmental successes of large corporations. Like Wal-Mart. They are emitting fewer greenhouse gases because they found more efficient ways to use fuel. Semi-trucks no longer keep their big engines running for the 10 hours the driver sleeps. (A critical reader probably took pause here.) Wal-Mart also uses fewer materials now in packaging than they used to. Sure, this environmental friendliness also saves money, so it's a win-win for Wal-Mart and the world. Hoorah!

4) Only what about when environmental shifts don't save money? Well, Diamond doesn't discuss that except to mention:

To my pleasant astonishment, in 2006 Wal-Mart decided to switch, within five years, all its purchases of wild-caught seafood to fisheries certified as sustainable.

That 5 years is almost up. Diamond doesn't tell us how much progress has been made, but I will: Wal-Mart is nowhere near reaching that goal.

5) Diamond then moves into policies that receive what he considers to be unfair objections from businesses and policy-makers, which is reasonable stuff. But he then finishes the article so weakly:

As for the rest of us, we should get over the misimpression that American business cares only about immediate profits, and we should reward companies that work to keep the planet healthy.

Should we get over it? Diamond never really gives us reason to. He explains a few things that Wal-Mart, Coca Cola, and Chevron are doing for the environment but not why they are doing it.

True: businesses do not just care about profits. They also care about reputation. CEOs recognized that corporate reputation is a more important measure of success than stock market performance, profitability, and return on investment. That is why they are changing (if, in fact, they are). Reputation is linked to profit (as the termination of Tiger Woods' contracts demonstrates). The good thing about reputation is that the image does not always have to be the truth (unless the truth comes out, in which case Gatorade will drop Tiger) -- that is why Wal-Mart can announce they will shelve only sustainable seafood and then not do it. Diamond was there last week to reward Wal-Mart for keeping the planet healthy. Will he be there to punish them, too?


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CEO's may rank corporate reputation as more important than economic performance as a measure of success on a survey, but I think their actions show (as you bring up) that they really view reputation as a tool to improve economic performance.

Big green is simply big business. See activist cash or look at Gores and the head of the IPCCs business connections. They want us all to live as they tell us, not as they do and in the process they will make billions!

Big green is simply big business. See activist cash or look at Gores and the head of the IPCCs business connections. They want us all to live as they tell us, not as they do and in the process they will make billions!

Reputation and corporate profit:

They are the same thing, because corporations are run by a fairly small group. But we're not talking about public reputation -- but the cultural standards of that small group that are on interlinked boards of directors, run NGO and non-profits, have large trusts...

Profits aren't made by selling to "consumers" -- consumers are just the end, well, consumers. It's by making deals with other folks within this group. It's the golf course agreements, the cocktail party tips, that make real profits. It's not convincing the "consumers" to buy your VCR -- it's convincing Walmart to carry it in the first place. The first job is much, much easier than the latter.

So, then Diamond's point is that if that global coterie of rulers becomes convinced that destroying the planet is "bad form" -- well, they will behave better. It's only when you live under the illusion of "market forces" as somehow disjunct from personal relationships and subcultural mores that you misunderstand the nature of the beast.

It's not a conspiracy -- it's just golfing buddies who will get really, really upset if all the nice courses are under 2 feet of water.

This is a silly argument, of course the ultimate motivation of a business is profits, but there is nothing inherently wrong in that.

Why do individuals take actions that are environmentally friendly? Are they sincere, or merely "greenwashing" their actions to preserve or enhance their social status?

Wait one minute! You should be blaming Greenpeace for Walmart's seafood greenwashing. They were the one's that gave Walmart a passing score on their idiotic seafood sustainability assessment (that they won't share the methodology with anyone because it doesn't exist) for simply making commitments. If anyone is to blame for Walmart's ability to make a commitment without doing anything then it should be Greenpeace because they are the ones who gave them a passing score for doing so.

Then at the same time, they completely Bash Trader Joe's just becuase they're not greenwashing!!!!

Greenpeace = HYPOCRITES

just to expand on how Greenpeace is helping mega-corporations greenwash in exchange for cooperating with them:

The #1 (best) on Greenpeace's Grocery Scorecard is Wegmens which according to Greenpeace's own report sells 15 out of 22 red list species.

Guess how many red list species Trader Joes sells? Its 15!

The difference is that Trader Joes:
"refuses to substantively respond to Greenpeaces inquires..."

Meanwhile, Greenpeace hands out passing scores to Whole Foods (sells 18 red list species) and Walmart (sells 13 red list species) simply because they played nicely with Greenpeace and made a bunch of commitments they will never honor.

So you should be questioning Greenpeace and their role in greenwashing - because it is perfectly valid for a corporation to do something merely for profit but not for an organization like WWF (who can be blamed for the disaster that is MSC) or for Greenpeace.