CSR at betterplace.org – electronical greenwashing or useful strengthening of social engagements?

A discussion which arises in our  team from time to time again, is about which corporations we should be working together with at betterplace. User also join in the discussion: this a few weeks ago we had one woman, responsible for a project on betterplace asking us to remove it, as she refused to share the same internet space with energy supplier Vattenfall, who had raised money on betterplace for a CARE International project.

Our businessmodell is based on the cooperation with companies …
In our businessmodell companies play a significant part: in order to run a sustainable platform and pass 100% of the donations on to the projects, we are offering companies the service to present their CSR „the betterplace-way“, i.e. highly transparent and in such a way that employees as well as customers can be easily activated to add their support to the social projects.

 An increasing number of companies have come to understand CSR as an opportunity to position themselves as „good corporate citizens“. Thus BSR, the company responsible for keeping Berlin clean, is supporting the development and recruitment of young non-ethnic Germans or Swedish energy giant Vattenfall is asking its employees to support emergency relief operations in Burma.

… do we help them with their greenwashing?
I assume nobody in the team would have a problem with presenting the CSR of self-reflexive sustainable companies such as Hess natur, a German fashion house, using organic materials only or a healthy fast food chain such as Berlin-based Gorilla.

But what about a automobile company, activly lobbying for higher CO2 emissions for new cars? Energy suppliers building nuclear power stations? Or banks handing out credit to corrupt regimes? When Wall Mart in China actively works against the unionization of its Chinese subsidaries and at the same time boasts on its website about its outstanding social engagement in China – paying cleft palate operations for babies and supporting leisure activities for toothless grannies – the discrepancy, or hypocracy?, becomes apparent.

Aren’t many companies engaged in a massive publicity scam, drawing the publics attention away from their problematic main business to a few benevolent social actions? And aren’t we helping these companies with their greenwashing?

In his impressive book Creating A World Without Poverty Mohammad Yunus speaks out in favour for a strict separation between companies aiming for economic and social return, as both goals all to often conflict with one another. In his view, „mixed models“, which try to combine economic and social goals, are problematic, as financial profit is the established benchmark and is much easier to measure than social progress, thus almost inevitably gaining the upper hand. Thus his call for the establishment of social enterprises, whose only aim is progressive social change (the companies have to be run according to a business logic to be sustainable, but all profit above the initial investment is supposed to go to the social end).

I suppose, the chances that we will see the establishment of a really significant number of social corporations in the near future are limited. What are we then to do with the majority of companies who first and foremost want to earn money, but who also want to contribute to the social good?

Do we accept every company as a paying customer on betterplace? Are there specific industries and firms (besides the obvious no-nos such as weapons, women and drugs) who we are excluding? What about companies close to Scientology? Or any other fundamentalistic ideology, be it Christian, Islamic or Hinduistic? And another question: On the basis of what kind of information can we make our judgements?


3 Responses to “CSR at betterplace.org – electronical greenwashing or useful strengthening of social engagements?”

  1. 1 Juergen August 25, 2008 at 6:56 am

    Dear Joana

    Many thanks for this interesting article. The question is betterplace greenwashing reminds me very much of the the accusation of the UN Global Compact of “bluewashing”.

    Apart from some extreme critics it is accepted that change happens through engagement, collaboration and sharing. I see betterplace as the Global Compact as a platform fir this.

    Judgments should be done by the ‘end-customer’. Through increased transparency incentives are set for good behavior. Together we can change the world.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. 2 idormeria March 8, 2009 at 1:40 am

    продам Форд-Фокус 2008 года за 200 тр. торг возможет. срочно!!!
    +7 960 200 9209

  1. 1 Trends in giving « betterplace.org Trackback on August 15, 2008 at 3:19 pm

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