Monday 24th October 2016                 Change text size:

The Secret Environmentalist: tell me something I don’t know

Photo: Jenny Poole via Flickr

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability news sources and conferences can be really rather mediocre; an endless stream of non-news and non-learning, mediated though a meaningless media lens of what is “worth” communicating. 

Thus, the likes of me get an endless daily feed of pointless and asinine insights spewing from the mouths of people with little or no experience of any actual sustainability practice.

The archetype of this breed is the Damascene convert.

This is someone who spent most of their career peddling rubbish to the gullible and credulous. Selling pointless bits of plastic perhaps, or flogging poisonous chemicals to depressed consumers by persuading them that the particular mix of borderline-toxicity they are desperate to sell will, once bought, make their children respect them and give them the vital self worth that their ability to wash and wear things would so clearly provide.

The aspiring-to-be-worthwhile member of society spends many years making, marketing and lobbying for the products of their beloved corporation, design agency or other similar agglomerations of worthless human endeavour.

Then, either sudden as a strike of lightning or gradually like creeping terror, they start to realise that perhaps there is more to life than spending it in pursuit of Mammon for themselves and bunch of tax dodging, offshoring, faceless, replaceable suits (though this only tends to happen when a nice, comfy cushion of cash has been safely stashed).

Perhaps, they muse, it is time to “give something back” – possibly one of the most nauseating phrases in any language. Could they use their fearsome skills of manipulation and exploitation for a good cause, the sustainability of the planet and its people?

What a revelation, and what a double whammy! Our putative Saul/Pauline can do what they do best whilst also cleansing their soul of the stains accreted by so many years in the service of systemic environmental destruction and the exploitation of vulnerable humanity’s worst hopes and fears (e.g. your choice of music player makes you an unperson, the beer you drink won’t make you friends that will go into space with you).

And not only that, but said born-again hero can still get his or her ego polished through broadcasting their vacuous “hard won truths and tips” to the sustainability world. An audience who are just so ground down by the pointless treadmill of trying to persuade a suicidal world to step back from the cliff edge that they are either too catatonic to tell our champion to shove their words of wisdom, or are so naive and unworldly that they actually believe that the born again sage-on-stage is actually saying something worth listening to.

It’s bad enough that this happens at all, but then the vacuity is transmitted and amplified in snippet form through a myriad of social media and sustainability news sites: “XXX says sky is blue”, “Conference keynote says: ‘turquoise is the new aquamarine’”, “Conscious consumers will transform tomorrow’s businesses”. Or, the worst of all; “A. Bod, Founder & CEO of Vapid Platitudes Inc says ‘Sustainability is totally last year: CSV/ GrossPositive/ CSR 2.5 is the way and the truth’” (spot the real-ish one).

Of course, news sites would appear rather sporadically if they actually stuck to only publishing things that could be defined as new or interesting. But really! Non-experts pontificating to the gullible through a media lens – it’s not exactly going to build a professional knowledge base or a sustainable world, is it?

No one should be surprised that sustainability contains as much self aggrandisement and ego-polishing as any other part of life. Nevertheless, it remains a depressing and dismal fact that the sustainability movement – the last best hope for humanity’s future – is actively complicit in poisoning that hope with the trivial, facile and irrelevant.

The Secret Environmentalist has been in the business for more than two decades and has worked at all levels of sustainability. They have ranged from the chalk-face of kids’ education and the coal-face of small business support to the nightmare of drinking coffee in some of shiniest boardrooms on the planet. Experienced in the real world of the private sector and the realer one of not-for profits, The Secret Environmentalist is mad as hell, and is not going to take this anymore.

Further reading:

The Secret Environmentalist: things are changing but sustainability is still a pipedream

The Secret Environmentalist: all out for shale gas

Our insane civilisation lacks the wisdom to deal with the problems we face

Climate change: the time has come to become unreasonable

The climate clock is ticking. Normal isn’t working. What should we do differently?

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