There has been a flurry of eco/ethical/organic posts on this blog of late, but nothing in comparison to miles of column inches in the press at present. I hope we aren’t overdoing it but the green issues that face the apparel and promotions industry are the most exciting thing to happen to it since someone decided to call a couple of pieces of cotton stitched together, in a ‘T’ shape, a t-shirt.
Of course it is not just our industry that is affected – the implications of eco-consciousness will reverberate throughout the triumvirate of politics, economics and sociology. If we agree that this movement is fundamental, it is perhaps inevitable that the PR and marketing people will look to utilise and manipulate the message for their own ends. I’m a capitalist, I realise that this is a probable consequence and see no hypocrisy in people both supporting the green movement and profiting from it. You may call it a win-win situation for the free market economy and the world.
I therefore disagree when I see statements in literature from one of our organic suppliers, Continental, stating:
‘We think it unethical to exploit ‘ethical trading’ as a marketing tool.’
Philip Charles, MD, Continental Clothing Company
‘Ethical trading’ will only grow if marketeers promote it and utilise it in their arsenal, and of course when Continental send us organic t-shirt samples and price lists, what are these to be called if they are not marketing tools used to promote sales and generate profits?
I do have a key caveat though, and in credit to them, I think this is what Continental really mean, and it is the concept of ‘Greenwashing‘, a pejorative term that critics use to describe the activity of giving a positive public image to putatively environmentally unsound practices. Talking with friends and colleagues, they can instantly name examples of this phenomenon: “Talk about that rubbish Shell ad with a man, his son and a straw,” said one unnamed source from the West-End (he is scared of the power of oil companies)!
Herein lies the problem. Greenwashing engenders cynicism, a dangerous by product of poorly conceived ethical marketing. To quote Whellams and MacDonald (2007):
“If consumers come to expect self-congratulatory ads from even the most environmentally backward corporations, this could render consumers sceptical of even sincere portrayals of legitimate corporate environmental successes. Thus well-meaning companies, companies committed to responsible behaviour with regard to the environment, have every reason to be critical of companies that greenwash.”
I think we are at a defining moment in this movement. When Selfridges and Hindmarch start doing what they are there is a risk that a pivotal point will be reached and this rapidly growing bubble will be deflated. In the mean time it may be worth investing in green tech stocks on AIM?