Thursday, 5 June 2014

"Being and remaining authentic"

This is the expressed objective of Commercial Ltd., the in-many-ways-admirable office supplies firm based here in Cheltenham. I went - rather at the last minute - to their CSR Day today, at the Racecourse.

I posted a bit about the 2011 event, the last one I attended, and came away with much the same misgivings today as then: enough is enough.

The attraction today was hearing what a psychologist from Unilever had to say: Dr. Richard Wright, comes with the wondrous title of Director of Sustainable Behaviour. "To achieve sustainability," he told us, "it's critical to change behaviour - and industry has a key role; so we try to change the behaviour of our consumers." He used as an example the health benefits in the Third World from the use of Unilever's Lifebuoy soap. "And from eating Wall's ice cream?" chirped Steve McDonnell, Gloucester City Council's Environmental Coordinator. "Well," came the response. "We still need to have a bit of fun in life."

My photograph shows one of the other speakers, the passionate-about-organics Tim Westwell, founder of Pukka Herbs (one of his colleagues alongside): to the question, what if your competitors mimic your environmental/ethical trajectory? he said he'd be delighted - and the Unilever man went further, saying effectively that if other companies didn't, we were sunk.

The only note of hesitation came from the "fiercely competitive" Simone Hindmarch-Bye of Commercial itself, so I became not the first person to ask whether the word “authentic” has lost its authenticity.

The killer question remains, How do we consume less? Yes, half the world lives on $3 a day or less, but what future for Planet Earth if their standard of living rises to the level of ours?

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