Some CEOs Are Concerned About Green Organizations Capitalizing on Social Issues to Fuel Their Own Agenda

For instance, the Sierra Club’s Facebook page featured a pair of statements supporting protesters, and Friends of the Earth temporarily blacked out its Twitter profile picture and replaced its background with a photo featuring the hashtag @BlackLiveMatter, according to the National Journal.

“These groups are trying to cobble together every ‘good’ they do under one umbrella.”

Incoming Natural Resources Defense Council President Rhea Suh wrote in her first blog post that the group could not abide “another injustice afflicting communities of color.”

The green organizations told the publication that they simply couldn’t stand by and watch “injustice” unfold in these cases and not comment about it despite the lack of an obvious tie to their sustainability concerns. But Sierra Club President Michael Brune also told National Journal that his group believes minority members are at greater social and economic risk from climate change—and that the environmental movement needs to step up its penetration amid minority communities.

These groups are “trying to cobble together every ‘good’ they do under one umbrella,” John Grace, the New York-based president of Brand Taxi LLC and a globally renowned branding consultant, told Chief Executive magazine. But in the long run, he says they’ll be found out, noting that “truth is the ultimate arbiter.”

As business chiefs deal with these rising demands and expectations around company policies, this trend further muddies the definition of “sustainability” and makes it more difficult for companies to focus solely on strategies, policies and practices that simply improve their approach to the environment.

Many CEOs, company owners and business interests also detect another development in this dynamic: It extends the continual broadening of the advocacy of environmental consciousness into an omnibus platform of leftist grievances and causes that have absolutely nothing to do with stopping pollution or even climate change. In that way, sustainability pressures become a Trojan horse for other forms of agitation.

CEOs need to be watchful and mindful because such coalescing among progressives often is aimed at getting companies to embrace or go along with other progressive agenda items beyond pressure for environmental initiatives or thinking. “By shoving them into what now has become the nearly sacrosanct arena of sustainability, these additional goals can be promoted and protected as part of an untouchable package whose individual components may or may not stand up to individual scrutiny as corporate priorities,” Chief Executive noted recently.

“Sustainability goals are just one component of a web of challenges driven by broader global development trends, so we could not solve for sustainability in a vacuum.”

And in some cases, CEOs agree with and even are promoting this meld. For example, Novartis CEO Joseph Jiminez last year included as non-environmental “sustainability” goals “making a long-lasting impact on health, the economy and global healthcare infrastructures in underserved communities.” Likewise, Hilton Worldwide CEO Christopher Nassetta said that sustainability goals “are just one component of a web of challenges driven by broader global development trends, so we could not solve for sustainability in a vacuum.”

Sodexo included as a “sustainability” goal developing its people and promoting “diversity” in its own workforce. “We bundle our goals together where we think we can impact society and the human beings we serve,” explained George Chavel, president and CEO of the Gaithersburg, Md.-based food-service giant.

And at Kering, the France-based owner of Gucci and other lifestyle brands, “fighting violence against women” and “empowering” them were listed as “sustainability” goals. “In all areas of the social path, we have a specific responsibility to do something,” said Marie-Claire Daveau, chief sustainability officer. “We think it’s the social path of sustainability.”

Dale Buss: Dale Buss is a long-time contributor to Chief Executive, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and other business publications. He lives in Michigan.
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