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Greenwashing: CSR and CER

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

In part two of our greenwashing series, we are diving deep into Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Environmental Responsibility. To read part one, What is Greenwashing? Click here.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is when an organization's objective is to increase social good with the reward of positive public and stakeholder reputation.

You may wonder, when did this begin? At the turn of the 20th century, after the industrial revolution, corporations realized that profitability depended on their image. Rather than being labeled “soulless”, they wanted to maintain a “human” approach for their organization to survive.

That family-friendly image has transformed over time. It is now a requirement for organizations to care about social issues to gain stakeholder's support. Organizations have found that talking about climate issues can help them gain popularity by “pulling at the consumer's heartstrings.”

However, many organizations do not do their best to be sincere towards their Corporate Social Responsibility promises and now consumers require trust from the organizations to make good on their promises.

Corporate Environmental Responsibility

Corporate Environmental Responsibility is more specific than CSR. It directly states that positive environmental practices correlate to positive corporate performance. A 2008 study found that of 267 firms, the cost of equity capital and payment to investors is significantly lower for firms that have excellent environmental performances.

Through Corporate Social Responsibility and Corporate Environmental Responsibility, organizations have an increased incentive to be insincere about how they communicate their relationship to social causes.

Case Study: Jeep 2021 Super Bowl

Today’s case study is Jeep’s 2021 Super Bowl commercial. Watch the AD here.

The ad uses greenwashing to show how rural landscapes, windmills, and wheat fields represent middle America. The ad urges Americans to come to the middle regardless of political identity. However, compromising actively denies things like accessible food or stimulus for impoverished Americans. How can we compromise or come to the middle when many Americans do not have access to the greenery that Jeep is advertising? But, the dissonance is that Jeep is not doing anything to help alleviate the struggles of those in middle America, or embodying any of the green ideals they just espoused. The ad is clearly using "green" imagery to sell an idea of unity behind progressive ideas.

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