The rhino hunt, green-washing and corporate environmental responsibility
The rhino hunt is over, emotional as it was. It might have been kinder if the hunt had taken place quickly and quietly without the grim prospect of a death sentence for something, however and hopefully the resistance to the ugly mess may just provide enough resonance to force some resistance to advances from other ‘hunters’.
Here’s a qualification. I can easily enough go with the concept of hunting for the pot, and I eat plenty of game, but the idea of killing something for the sole purpose of an emotional charge doesn’t sit well with me. That emotion was something the hunter mentioned.
My dissatisfaction with the televised rhino hunt has a further level. As an adjunct to the affair, there was one very visible report on how the meat from the rhino was distributed to villagers. The photo showed them posing over the flesh with happy smiles.
Two questions need to be asked. Were they bussed in for the photo op? And if sharing the meat was a valid justification, wouldn’t it have been better to spare the rhino and give the full sum for the trophy to the villagers? Neither the hunt, nor the ill-advised green-washing portraying villagers so hungry they are willing to eat rhino, reflect well on Namibian tourism.
Green-washing has become an ugly phenomenon in the realm of communication and marketing. In a nutshell, it is the practice of touting environmental sustainability benefits when the benefits are non-existent or slender, ill-advised and / or dubious at best.
Taken in the context of the hunt, handing over the meat to the villagers has very limited long-term benefits and may be seen as an excuse for additional hunting of a resource that is under extreme threat. Other examples include the ill-advised concept of biofuels which actually reduce biodiversity and can lead to dispossession of farmers from their lands.
In the realms of advertising, labels and imagery associated with manufactured products regularly use nature and greenery as a device, belying the origin and nature of their production. The better theoretical basis is found in King’s triple bottom line, which posits profit, people and planet. Planet is becoming a major issue. Although some minor voices count as climate change deniers, weather and environmental phenomena are beginning to argue with far louder voices.
The case for ‘planet’ now requires collective action. That’s an ugly term. Instead you can translate it as the real, individual responsibility of entities to reduce their environmental impact.
The concept is backed by Namibian realities. There is a shortage of electricity. There is a shortage of water. Activities such as installing solar or reducing water usage are no longer sources for press releases.
They are becoming contributors to the bottom line, potentially wards against interruption of processes, and long-term viability of enterprise and households.
There are emerging legislative aspects that are coming into play, for instance the tax that appears to be coming to encourage recycling and reuse.
Structurally the groundwork for a ‘natural economy’ is being laid with the implementation of a programme that will seek to quantify the value of the natural resources available to Namibia.
As there are pressing realities, the likelihood of enterprise adaptation to the requirements of sustainability will be a matter of competitive parity, and a responsibility, rather than an PR investment.
The point where it may once again be considered an investment is for accounting purposes and disclosure in annual reporting.
On the level of the brand, my estimation is that aside from legislative and governance aspects to the thing, consumers will also evaluate environmental claims.
This will probably begin in the upper LSMs but filter through to lower LSMs in future as costs of factors such as water and electricity exert upward pressure on prices.
In the meantime, please leave rhinos alone.