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The Guardian: Greenwash fatigue

Consumers are demanding genuine action from businesses on sustainability and GNM initiatives, such as the Climate Change Summit, are helping them achieve it

Monday October 29 2007

THE GUARDIAN: This is the beginning of an interesting and dynamic journey for the commercial departments as we look at how to implement our commitment to become a successful sustainable media company.

We recognise it will neither be easy nor quick, and answers rarely present themselves in simple black and white terms.

Our first step has been to become the first media organisation to employ a fulltime commercial sustainable development manager. The creation of the post was the result of our work with Forum for the Future.

This will help build our knowledge and help us to understand both the issues and the opportunities. We will be able to provide market-leading consultancy in sustainable development to our staff and customers, ensuring that we inform and influence our advertisers, recruiters and suppliers. We feel that engaging with our clients is a much more creative way forward than going down the route of banning certain categories of advertising.

By working across our advertising, recruitment, and reader offers departments, we hope to generate new revenue streams, as well as coordinating and monitoring sustainability-focused activity from existing advertisers across our various departments.

One of the key activities during 2007 was to commission a piece of groundbreaking research exploring the true extent of green consumerism in the UK. Produced in association with Henley Centre HeadlightVision, this piece of quantitative and qualitative research investigates levels of green behaviour across different segments of the population, and will help clients, planners and creative designers on a range of subjects, including who they should be talking to and how they should be saying it.

For example, the research clearly showed a distaste of consumers for “greenwash” and that companies should only promote their sustainability credentials if they can fully back them up. The research and associated planning tool are being made freely available to agencies and their clients.

Our business-to-business division, Guardian Professional, is planning a number of initiatives in the sustainability field and in 2007 ran the first ever Guardian Climate Change Summit. Although there was considerable controversy around the event, both internally and externally, around our sponsorship from Shell, in the end it proved a huge success, for both sponsors and delegates.

The diverse range of speakers demonstrated that all “sides” of the debate could be gathered under one roof to exchange experiences and views with utter directness, but no rancour. Policy‑makers, too, benefited from hearing from green groups speaking on the same platform as corporates.

High-profile speakers included keynotes from Ken Livingstone, Sir David King and Jonathon Porritt, who covered strategies for mitigating climate change, and for business and public service delivery success in a low carbon economy.

Richard Evans, auditor, says:

“The appointment of a commercial sustainability manager is a postive move company. I also welcome the green consumerism research and the way it used to raise awareness among Guardian clients. It could be a significant contributor cooperation between the company and advertisers to encourage more sustainable consumerism. I will expect a report on impact on client relations and advertising next Living Our Values report.”,,2193194,00.html and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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