The Greenwash Brigade

Bizarre ad: greenwash, or just a guy in a bear suit?

Janne K. Flisrand Oct 28, 2008

I’d skipped this article when skimming Slate today, but directed toward it, I watched the HSBC ad on YouTube with the same puzzlement that both the article’s author John Swansburg and Joellen Easton, the editor of this blog, expressed.

Neither of them can see how the ad’s story and banking are related. I almost can if I squint really, really hard.

Accepting that there’s no connection between banking and the storyline here, what is HSBC trying to say about itself?

The ad shows no allegiance to the logging protesters, nor to the loggers, nor the police. And it does an incredible job of maintaining absolute neutrality about the “issue” addressed.

Maybe HSBC is saying that their value is to not judge?

But if that’s the case, then aren’t they also saying they don’t have any values, but they’re tolerant of the values of all their customers? Plausible — and they just lost me as a customer. I use my economic choices to reinforce actions — which stem from values — that I think should be widespread. I want a bank that hires from the neighborhood, that serves all communities and customers regardless of income, that invests locally, that recycles and sources environmentally preferable office supplies.

Here’s another possible interpretation — it’s a stretch, but in a void as large as this, why not argue something outlandish?

Maybe they know people view stories through their own lens, and hope that when we watch we’ll “see” them mirroring back our own values. If that’s the case, they’re trying to tell me that they’re a fan of environmental protection (while also maintaining respect for local economic activities).

In this interpretation, they’re actually abdicating all values, while trying to appeal to the values of potential customers. One of those interpretations is a sustainable one. If this is their game, it’s greenwash, because by the very nature of this scenario, the other values they’re transmitting (law and order, local economics trump the environment) are opposing values.

What **are ** they trying to say about themselves?

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