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Juicy headlines in influential media (read, The New York Times) can inhibit support for CSR

Case in point: “Social Responsibility That Rubs Right Off” — headline in a lengthy article in yesterday’s Business Section of The New York Times.

And it’s illustrated, too — with skull and crossbones — to be sure we get the point.

Extrapolating from Volkswagen’s “the latest and most egregious example of greenwashing” the article all but concludes that everybody does it — that all companies communicating about their sustainable products “often exaggerate their claims, or simply make thing up”:

” These days, greenwashing is spreading like a weed.”

“The prevalence of greenwashing has skyrocketed in recent years.”

“… 95 percent of the products marketed as eco-friendly had committed at least one of the …the ‘seven sins’ of greenwashing. Those sins include such relatively benign offences like using weak data to more deliberate deceptions like inventing bogus certifications.”

That last conclusion is from a study by consulting firm TerraChoice which generates some of its income by helping clients to “navigate the green garden”.

Yes, the half-page article includes the obligatory “balancing” statement on authentic corporate sustainability communications. You can find the highly-qualified eleven words near the end of the 24-paragraph article: “While plenty of companies are bringing more sustainable products to market …” [emphasis added].

Of course, media must speak truth to power and certainly business has its miscreants — even the news business has faced scandals. But at a time when companies the world over are genuinely trying to integrate societal improvement with traditional business objectives — such as in the newly-adopted UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals — let’s provide adequate context in all reporting on corporate social responsibility.