Corporate Sustainability Storytelling: The Whack-a-Mole Response Needs to Stop

Why is it that some environmentalists feel the need to play whack-a-mole whenever a leading brand peeks its head above the fray to publicly declare a corporate sustainability achievement?

I’m not going to cite specifics – just look at the comments section of any major news outlet covering a big brand sustainability announcement – but I do want to address the negative impact this has on business stepping up for the environment.

As an environmental NGO with a history of working in the trenches with powerful businesses, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) often gets to play the mole role. We’ve endured our share of slings and arrows since first partnering with McDonald’s over 25 years ago, so I can empathize with companies who are reticent to step up and publicly acknowledge the sustainability work they are doing.

EDF has thick skin and a singular mission to forge solutions that help people and nature thrive. It’s not always the same for major brands that have to balance the needs of shareholders, suppliers, employees, communities, and yes, the planet. It’s difficult to step forward and share sustainability stories when doing so invites backlash. I get it.

While environmentalists push for change in corporate business and policy practices, we must also adjust our attitudes in working with and encouraging those businesses who are trying to make a difference.

Basic behavioral psychology leads me to believe that if we want more major companies innovating, executing and sharing best corporate sustainability practices, the whack-a-mole approach needs to stop.

Nancy Blog INancy Blog IIAnd because I can already feel the mole-mallet swinging for my head, let me quickly duck and acknowledge that I am not suggesting that environmentalists do away with corporate sustainability policing. It is completely necessary to hold business accountable for the damage it does to people and planet. I’m merely suggesting a better balancing of positive and negative. Just as there is a full spectrum of environmental NGOs and their approach to business; so too should there be a full spectrum of feedback, from accountability to cheer-leading.

Perhaps I’m over-simplifying (it’s what I do, I’m a marketer), but I’d suggest that if we want companies to do more to finds ways for both business and the planet to prosper, we do more to champion those who step up and tell their corporate sustainability stories.

Shining the spotlight on corporate sustainability wins is part of EDF’s game plan in working closely with business. We spend 10 years on the ground with corporate giants to be able to share best practices and influence entire industries. For us, critical commentary happens behind the scenes and throughout the journey, building the wins we can then share publicly.

Encouraging more big brands to share their stories can create momentum and even healthy competition to drive the next frontier of corporate sustainability.  To me, this is much more important than playing corporate whack-a-mole – but then again, I’ve always been more of a carrot than a stick person.

Here are some examples of big brands publicly stepping up for the planet:


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