Sustainability or virtue signalling?

We now live in a world where concern for the planet and the climate have never been so prominent. Much has been made of the concerns of the young and the blame heaped upon previous generations.

Mind you, it is difficult to take the blame for a lifestyle where we used to have milk, soft drinks and beers delivered in glass bottles that were recycled and which attracted a return payment from the shopkeeper, how ever small.

Or the use of brown paper bags for collecting groceries and where we recycled the bags to cover textbooks to preserve them for the next year’s class. Even good old fish and chips were wrapped in recycled newspapers.

But the world has moved on and we certainly need to do something about the damage we are now doing to the planet as a result of so called ‘progress’.

Entrepreneurs of today need to look at the sustainability of their offerings and should make every attempt to reduce the damage that products and services do to the environment.

However, that is totally different to what has come to be known as virtue signalling. The public do not take kindly to people using the old adage of ‘don’t do as I do, do as I say’.

Of late there have been a plethora of celebrities flying around the world on private jets to tell us how to reduce our carbon footprint in order to save the planet. There has rightly been anger from the public about this virtue signalling whilst assuaging their conscience with the equivalent of their loose change as a way of saying they are carbon neutral.

Indeed, the whole industry of carbon offsetting is one that seems only to provide sufficient funds for luxury lifestyles for people running the schemes. The latest of these appears to be to pay to have a load of charcoal buried in the bottom of a landfill. Unfortunately, the charcoal is brought from the forests of Namibia where presumably forests are burnt to provide it!

But business is equally guilty of virtue signalling rather than taking real positive action to benefit the planet. The story of Ben and Jerry’s promoting diversity through their ice cream, only for their parent company to sell face-whitening cream is an example!

Another example is the artificial leather industry. Many people have concerned themselves with the use of real leather from dead animals for fashions despite the fact that the hides are a natural bi-product of much of the food we eat and the milk we drink, unless you are strict vegan.

However, the same people that are particularly concerns about killing animals are also concerned about the planet. Unfortunately the switch to artificial leather means using something that is made from PVC and other plastics and is not biodegradable. Moreover, it lasts for about a sixth of the time that real leather fashion lasts and hence even more damage is done with non-biodegradable plastics.

Less obvious signs of virtue signalling are companies that support disabled charities but who do not employ disabled people. Similarly, companies that have diversity policies but have few women or people of ethnic background in senior positions.

The problem with virtue signalling for businesses is that the very act implies that it appeals to the tribalism in us. In other words, if people agree then they are part of your tribe. However, for a business, if those you are trying to sell to don’t want to be part of your tribe them you risk them leaving you for a more acceptable tribe.

So, by all means develop businesses that are sustainable and planet friendly, but you don’t need to shout it from the rooftops. Boasting has never been an acceptable trait and people are clever enough to see whether what you do is sustainable without being told they are part of some mythical tribe.

Many of us, particularly those of us that were brought up in a less disposable and more recyclable environment go about trying to preserve the planet without telling any of the protesting young or the virtue signalling celebrities what we are up to. We look to preserve and conserve as a matter of daily living. Wastage to us is an anathema. Businesses must get back to doing the same.

Pride should be how others feel about your actions, not what you tell them they should find to be proud of in you. The people aren’t stupid. They can see when virtue signalling is just another marketing ploy or PR stunt.

Running a business to win is hard enough, without making it harder by scoring own goals. Sustainability is laudable, but virtue signalling is laughable

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