COMMENT: PLATFORM; Why business cannot dismiss worthy causes

Consumers have warmed to the environmental pressure group and the time has come for business to follow suit, says John Gray

Consumers have warmed to the environmental pressure group and the time

has come for business to follow suit, says John Gray

This week’s Business in the Community report which says that 86 per cent

of consumers would prefer to buy a product associated with a cause comes

as no surprise. Having worked with both pressure groups and business

over the past eight years, it is interesting to see environmentalists

building stronger relationships with the public and enjoying the trust

of many while business procrastinates and for the most part retreats

behind a veil of denial and diversion.

Originally environmentalism was seen as the obsession of long-haired

tree huggers, woolly liberals, and flaky academics. Things have since

moved on dramatically, primarily due to the fact that environmentalism

is no longer dismissed as barking mad. Global warming has now been

proven, people are complaining about the effects of air pollution

through increased vehicle use, and there is widespread condemnation of

the treatment of animals, all of which is having a direct effect on our

quality of life, the food that we eat, the air that we breathe.

While business has moved dramatically towards listening to the concerns

of environmentalists, so have environmentalists moved towards business.

Those organisations who still have the out moded view that environmental

pressure groups can be ignored, and they will simply go away are in for

a shock, as recently experienced by both Shell and United Biscuits.

Shell seriously underestimated the public outcry against dumping Brent

Spar, and United Biscuits found themselves similarly embarrassed when

they chose to ignore Greenpeace’s pleas to pull out of using fish oil

produced from industrial fishing. They capitulated when they found

Greenpeace campalgners dressed in penguin suits sitting in their

boardroom and photos appeared in all of the national press and media the

following day.

Some of Britain’s more enlightened organisations now have an

environmental management division which looks at every area of the

company’s business and its impact on the environment. They are also

responsible for identifying those issues which the organisation is going

to have to respond to, and working out cost effective solutions. These

departments are in contact with the pressure groups, know their agenda,

and endeavour not to be caught out. However, token gestures do not wash.

Members of the public are now much more discerning. They are extremely

concerned about environmental issues, and how they affect the goods and

services which they buy. Customers expect retailers and manufacturers to

take environmental concerns seriousy, adapting their product and

services accordingly, but do not expect to have to pay more for this.

The business community needs to constantly examine practice and process

in order to manage reputation and create competitive edge. There are

still many companies, who believe that by launching environmental awards

indulging in cynical sponsorships and having discussions with pressure

groups they are building lasting relationships and reducing risks. They

are deluding themselves.

John Gray is chairman of Media Natura

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