Sustainability author lashes out at Dow for water abuse
Should companies with environmentally hazardous products use sustainability to promote their brands? Dow Chemical learned the hard way when author Anna Lappe lashed out about its poor track record on water.
This year, a public relations firm working on behalf of Dow Chemical made the mistake of asking sustainability author Anna Lappé to contribute a 60-second video for a virtual conference on water sustainability, "The Future We Create."
Unfortunately, they didn't realize who they were messing with.
With a twinkle in her eye, Lappé turned the commission on its head, using her time to rail against the polluting impact the world's largest chemical company has had on global water systems.
In the video I submitted, which you can watch below, I stress that one of the greatest threats to clean water is chemical contaminants—and that Dow Chemical has a long history of water pollution. The PR representative e-mailed to say “unfortunately we can’t use your video,” but that she would be happy to include me, still, if I would consider re-recording it. When we discussed what that would mean she said, no “fingerpointing;” they wanted a “positive, inclusive discussion.”
I believe in inclusiveness and engagement, but I also believe we must pursue those principles within a context that is honest. To do otherwise is to participate in what is popularly called “greenwashing,” painting a veneer of environmentalism on an otherwise unchanged product or practice—a corporate strategy many of us are all too familiar with.
In this spirit, I felt it would be disingenuous to engage in a conversation about water sustainability, for a campaign paid for by Dow Chemical, without pointing out the direct relationship between Dow’s core business products—a source of its $8 billion in profit last year—and toxins in our environment.
It could have been a simple "no" -- Dow is hardly the only corporation looking to burnish its image with eco-friendly overtures, rightly or wrongly -- but that didn't stop her from producing the video, writing about the exchange as well as offering a brief history into Dow's missteps with the environment, from the manufacture of Bisphenol-A to neurotoxin-laced pesticides.
Which begs the question: can, and should, a company with known environmental mistakes use the subject as a tool to promote its brand? If a company talks the talk but doesn't walk the walk, does that compromise the message?