Sustainability isn't green, it's transparent
- By John Rooks -
- Nov 14, 2012
Can we trust corporations and their sustainable promises? Today's guest blog attempts to sort the fact from the fiction...
Most of what passes for corporate transparency is really just selective translucency - a view in from the outside through a lens of green filters and refracted light. In the worst cases it is full of fun-house mirrors means to distract or confuse. In some cases, it is a manifestation of companies authentically working through the new maze of modern transparency strategies [a new and uncomfortable and exciting concept to capitalism]. Mostly, it is a choreographed peepshow leaving the conscious capitalist voyeur unfulfilled. Lacan might call it “jouissance” [an act of pleasure without joy].
Part of the struggle is in describing the complex system that makes up “Sustainability” [Capital S and quotes, so you know it’s complex] We are compelled to boil it down quickly. Often this lumpy reduction is a simple color: Green. But as the movement matures, Green has become a crutch, an all too simple label. The solution is not to label sustainability. The solution is to show it happening, and to engage consumers and other stakeholders in the act, not the words or icons that express the idea behind the act.
This, of course, is impossible to do without being more transparent. When it comes to selecting colors to set eco-companies apart from...well...companies, Green was an obvious choice at one point in time. Like most branding, its reduced simplicity is its power.
In a sense, in its heyday, Green was the rescued pejorative of “greenies” and “treehuggers” which were labels used to delegitimize the fringe hippie movement that started this thing.
Both of those terms were reclaimed by the fringe that they once were used to disenfranchise from the mainstream. However, once reclaimed as positives, these terms were quickly co-opted by the mainstream as a part of a corporate marketing strategy. From green-collar jobs to green-washing, to green-tech, green-fatigue and green-building, there’s no shortage of its usage as a shortcut to (over)simplify sustainability.
And that’s fine. It can play that roll, but it often stops there. Green doesn’t enjoy the luxury of consistency. It has no real depth. Cultural theorist Marshall McLuhan said that, “mud sometimes gives the illusion of depth.” Same goes for Green. All too often, Green offer the illusion of sustainability, the spectacle of sustainability, but few solutions. It lacks texture. And while researchers can segment consumers into dark and light and bright shades of the color, it’s still a thin pastiche. A hack on top of a very real strategic business direction.
Some entrepreneurial ad agencies have jumped in and are working their system to re-brand the environmental movement as “blue.” “Blue is the new Green,” they say. It’s the Business-side of the movement. A more professional color. Safer. Ultimately, it is nothing more than a new flavor of vanilla ice cream; a skipping stone, superficial and doomed to sink.
Sustainability is only a branding problem to branding agencies.
After all, colors are not things. Colors are not ideas. Colors are not solutions. Colors are shortcuts. Yes, they are a gateway to a conversation, a symbol of an idea. They are representations, stand-ins and body doubles for real things. Transparency, however is the thing itself. A new marketing strategy of things representing themselves is born.
Sustainability is transparent, void of any obscuring color. It is clear, open, and visible. Sustainability is naked - and strategically so. Beatnik William Burroughs sang it best with Tom Waits on The Black Rider: “ain’t no sin to take of your skin and dance around in your bones.” This is the stuff of authenticity. Colors can be co-opted [as green has]. Shortcuts can be stolen and repurposed [like images of a befreckled little girls blowing a dead dandelion into the wind] that litter today’s ad campaigns.
Authentic transparency on the other hand, can’t be stolen. Your competition can only become as good and as transparent as you are. And when it happens, you will become better and more transparent. And they will chase you. And so on...onward towards sustainability.
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