My 2008 New Year’s resolution was to stop haranguing about weak-kneed politicians and corporate executives who worship at the appeasement altar every time a group of activist nannies demands tribute. I concluded that whether or not I pontificated about the benefits of capitalism and freedom, the trend toward corporate socialism, cleverly veiled as the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, would be ultimately reversed by the economic forces converging toward the end of 2007.
When times are good, humans worry about ethereal issues like whether polar bears will have enough ice in one-hundred years? When times are tough we wonder whether polar bears are edible. My point is that there is nothing like a worldwide recession, a plummeting stock market and the possibility of inflation to focus our collective attention on how government is spending our tax dollars, and whether or not corporate managers are protecting and enhancing our investments.
So, if the corporate socialists are about to experience the blunt force trauma of a pendulum swinging in a different direction, why am I writing this column and breaking my New Year’s resolution? Because new information has surfaced in two recent articles that may cause the aforementioned pendulum to increase velocity and smite the boardroom socialists with a blow that even they will find difficult to forget.
According to a Business Week article published this week, a recent survey of 527 MBA students at 12 top-ranked business schools found that, “a company’s record on environmental issues ranked at the bottom of factors MBAs are using to select employers,” and that “also close to the bottom were other so-called company value issues such as corporate ethics, social responsibility, and community involvement.” This news contradicts the propaganda spewed by the eco-socialists who want companies to believe that if they don’t cave and capitulate to every new environmental whim, no one will want to work for them.
Corporate social responsibility advocates have long claimed that companies that fail to jump on the CSR bandwagon will suffer the consequences when it comes to recruiting new talent. They conjured up this red herring to divert attention from the fact there is no evidence that appeasing the activists benefits the bottom line. Now, thanks to Business Week, we can rest easy knowing that the vast majority of MBA students still consider salary and career opportunities as the most important factors in selecting an employer. They haven’t all joined the Green Party!
A second article, posted by Adweek.com on January 14th, discusses in great detail the advertising and public relations campaign launched by the granddaddy of all corporate appeasers—a modern Neville Chamberlain from the UK—British Petroleum (BP). The final paragraph in the article reads: “Regardless of whether industry observers think BP is truly ‘green,’ the company and its rebranding campaign have managed to convince the public that it is more eco-friendly than its competitors.”
According to Adweek Magazine, since 2005 BP has spent over $100 million a year to convince U.S. consumers that it is greener than ExxonMobil, Shell, Chevron and Texaco. The article provides no solid evidence that consumers are rewarding BP at the pumps for what may be the greatest hoodwink in the annals of advertising. To be sure, sales have risen thanks to $100/barrel oil but every petroleum company has benefited from skyrocketing crude.
The Adweek article also fails to address how BP could justify spending all that money on a campaign to puff up its image when the company’s poor safety and maintenance practices apparently resulted in a fatal explosion at its refinery in Texas, and the forced shut-down of a highly corroded BP pipeline in Alaska. These two events contributed to the expedited resignation of BP CEO John Browne, the person who jumped in bed with Greenpeace and drove the company beyond petroleum and toward corporate socialism. Poor John Browne; he found out that it’s not easy being Green!
I believe the folks at Business Week and Adweek have actually done a great service for those of us who have been arguing that the corporate social responsibility movement is a fraud. Business Week provides hope that future corporate executives aren’t buying the socialist hooey. Adweek has made it clear that CSR is not about corporate ethics and values—it’s about manipulating public opinion. Perhaps in 2008, business leaders and investors will start to seriously question whether the alleged benefits of corporate socialism and appeasement are worth the real costs.