Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Too Green for Their Own Good?: I sense a meme gathering momentum. The real problem with business, according to this latest trope, is that it’s just too darn socially responsible.

The first manifestation of this new right-wing talking point was provided by conservative activist Steven Milloy, whose Free Enterprise Fund is challenging General Electric chief executive Jeffrey Immelt over his “ecomagination” initiative. The plan, which revolves around selling a vast range of environmentally sensitive products, but also includes pledges of environmental responsibility from GE, has been widely praised in the business media, but Milloy is worried that GE is getting too cozy with the green movement.

So he is backing a shareholder resolution that declares “company policy should be based on sound scientific and economic analyses and not appeasement of external activist groups. Policy based on faulty analyses or external pressure may reduce shareholder value.” That sounds reasonable enough, and Immelt will undoubtedly argue—as he did at its launch—that “Ecomagination” is first and foremost about positioning the company in the forefront of an important business opportunity.

But Milloy has another agenda entirely, which has to do with climate change and his conviction that if we all ignore it for long enough it will either go away or become someone else’s problem. There’s no serious scientific debate about whether the earth is warming, and a considerable scientific consensus that the climate is fast approaching the point of no return, but Milloy is still calling for more research. It’s like calling for a study into whether Al Qaeda really plans another attack before deciding to do something about port security.

Hard on the heels of that story comes a Wall Street Journal column about another Milloy initiative, this one condemning Goldman Sachs for donating 680,000 acres in Chile to the Wildlife Conservation Society, claiming that its decision to do so was “anti-growth.” Companies donate money to myriad causes, of course, and strategic philanthropy has numerous marketing and public relations benefits. It’s not the philanthropy Milloy and Journal object to, of course; it’s the recipient.

Look for more of this sort of nonsense in the future, as ideologues on the right grow increasingly resistant to the idea of companies seeking to strengthen their brands by embracing progressive social issues.

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