Sustainability (and such)

Corporate Social Responsibility

As a practitioner and academic, I’ve seen greatly improved links between marketing (bad!) with CSR campaigns in areas such as sustainability (good!). So, how we can reconcile our passion for social justice with the sometimes-sleazy manipulation of capitalistic corporate communication? I think we MUST know the language of the master’s house/mainstream before we can successfully dismantle a status quo and create an improved model of transparency and ethics.   And that’s an incredible value of academics:  Learning seminal texts (and pushing beyond) adds a richer level of credibility for stronger new ideas.   Think of Henry Fonda in “Twelve Angry Men” and let’s be the critical thinkers amidst a carnival of naysayers and crazy thinking.

A study of communication shines light on how language does (or doesn’t)  inform and persuade people, whether we’re looking at Pepsi’s Refresh Project or Toyota’s sluggish response to its safety crisis.  And, as we are still seeing ramifications of the tragic BP oil spill, language and images (or the lack thereof) also involves issues of power and culture.   And there’s the rub:  Anytime we craft messages, whether for a start-up funding proposal or sustainability employee campaign, we are choosing which ideas to stress or ignore, which is in itself a process that maintains and validates power about a product, service, idea, or other meaning.  As communication activists hoping to reach the public, we’re also holding up mirrors to target audiences who decode messages according to their own social constructions.  Let’s think deep about that and then sew in financial decisions, measurements, and social media that can’t polish dull brands but are a boon for CSR.

So, amidst puffy CSR reports and greenwashing competitors, how might the susty community pledge to keep its projects free of biases, stereotypes, and other dominant values of patriarchal society?  THAT is our call to action, I think, to carefully think about influence, connectivity, and repercussions.  For deeper discussions, I recommend readings about critical literacy (or socially perceptive literacy) and cultural studies (our way of life) to help look at how groups (including businesses and institutions) use trustworthy messages to shape attitudes about social justice and global equality.  Some academics find that the schema theory is helpful in determining how people learn through activated memories or ideals that affect how messages are received; e.g. a “green” message might ring bells for somebody once involved in the 70’s ecology movement or an elementary school student who recycles, but another audience might need more reasons for relevance.  Given that all of us are vulnerable to messages that play into our shared experience, that “elephant in the room” must be dealt with a thoughtful moral compass.

For more resources, check out journals about consumer research, decoding of meanings in messages, and theories about communication, sociology, psychology, and other social sciences, such as feminist postmodern critical theory and self-schemas.

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