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CSR-Washing is the New Greenwashing


It's such a catchy piece of shorthand. Greenwashing, for those of you who haven't heard, describes a marketing communications activity that companies engage in when they want to be perceived as ecologically sustainable, even when they're not. Greenwashing, as the BNET Business Dictionary notes, could amount to, "a false or misleading picture of environmental friendliness given by some organization to conceal its damaging activities."

But there are â€" and have been for years â€" other kinds of "-washing" going on. Take, for example, Big Tobacco's funding of a "scientific" laboratory in the 1950s that purported to debunk any links between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

The latest advances in "-washing" have come, not surprisingly, via YouTube. Recent "films" posted to the popular online video sharing site include:

Nike's "The Girl Effect"
This film is designed to demonstrate the sportswear company's commitment to the economic betterment of women and girls in developing countries. (Nike and its vendors have been accused of exploiting labor in poor nations such as Vietnam and Indonesia.)

Starbucks Invests in Farmer's Communities There's nothing quite like happy people in bright native headgear picking coffee beans in the shadows of Kilimanjaro and enjoying water from a new plantation-funded cistern to take attention off the fact that the about only people getting rich off of Starbucks coffee are the company's execs and coffee plantation owners.

Whole Foods' "Whole Earth Generation" Series
Among other things, like buying its organic produce and all-natural turkey jerky, Whole Foods would very much like it if you would convert your diesel vehicle to run on used vegetable oil. Presumably, this should alleviate some of your guilt the next time you take home one of Whole Foods' large, organic soups in a waxed paper container. Heck, the company even has a YouTube channel all its own, where you can enjoy a virtual visit to a Whole Foods market, not in the company of a sales person, but of a Guest Services Ambassador.

These companies, and many others, are using Web 2.0 tools to try to show their commitment to "corporate social responsibility," or "CSR ." Maybe some such commitments are genuine, and maybe some are less so. Whatever the case, we need to come up with a new buzzword for when a company shamelessly touts its CSR efforts, because "CSR-washing" doesn't exactly roll trippingly off the tongue.

We're taking suggestions.

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