As the media heated up before the Masters golf tournament, a Wall Street Journal piece noted that the PGA Tour is a non-profit organization “that turns over its excess cash to charity.” Last year, this amounted to $130 million, which is big money for any philanthropy. For comparison, total prize money for the 2013 PGA Tour season is $298 million.
I re-read the “excess cash” sentence about four times. The sport of rich white men, awash in corporate sponsorships, is giving big chunks of the money to those less fortunate. Who knew? Not me, or any of my friends who are deep into golf. I bet a lot of people who read that story had the same reaction.
As I sat there, I realized that I’ve been having this reaction more often lately. The deeper you go into sustainability, the more good news you find – but mostly you have to find it yourself. Except for a handful of brands, companies are whispering about their good works, if they are saying anything at all.
This has to change. How are we going to harness the spending power of this planet to save it if we don’t know which companies should get our business?
Even people who should know about this stuff often don’t know.
A woman I know works for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in West Africa, helping people become more self-sufficient in farming and agricultural production. So she knows from aid agencies. Last weekend, we were talking about Malian music, and I happened to mention that UPS had flown a free airlift into the country last year for UNICEF.
They also made a couple of relief flights into Mauritania. Something like 289 tons of food and educational kits for children at risk of famine due to a perfect storm in the Sahel: Armed conflict was wracking a region with a broken system of supply and demand — during a seasonably vulnerable period of the annual food production cycle. As a result, refugees from the fighting were flooding into poor countries, and the kids were not getting enough to eat.
Of course my acquaintance knew all this firsthand. But she had no idea about the donated relief flights. She was also amazed that it came from a corporation. Her response was a single word, uttered with more or less complete disbelief: “UPS?!”
Those of us in the corporate world, even only partly, must start talking about the good stuff more loudly. We have got to start demanding that the people in the white hats stand up and be counted. We have to tell the good stories far more often, and far more effectively.
A good example has already played out in the wine business, starting about ten years ago. A few of us began writing about organic wine-growing. But we soon learned that the wineries that are doing the most for the environment didn’t want us to talk about it. And you want to know why? Because they were afraid people would think their wine was dirty and scruffy and crunchy granola, not smooth and powerful and worth good money.
So I started writing about their silence. Long story short, today wineries are proud to talk about clean, green viticulture, and there are organizations that certify them so we can shop with confidence.
Every industry needs to do this. And it’s not like they have to hunt hard for the money. They are already spending it, big-time, on advertising, public relations, sustainability reporting, and employee communications.
They need to tune up the message and get one thing clear: Corporations can move the sustainability needle faster than any other type of organization on earth, and we can help them do it by voting with our dollars.
Given a choice, wouldn’t you support a company that left the world better than it found it?