The Greenwash Gold campaign, which seized on Dow Jones and lumped together BP and Rio Tinto to create a rogue’s gallery of London 2012, signally failed to attract consumer support.
While LOCOG played the British card of staunch support extremely well, and the campaign has left barely a reputational scuff, one element though, Redmandarin would criticise: the bolt-on of Sustainability Partnership.
BMW, BP, BT, Cisco, EDF and GE all signed on the dotted line for the additional title – which arguably shows that, as a sales technique, it’s worked. But as a practice, it raises large questions. Partner categories and designations are the standard fare of the sponsorship package – but the title of Sustainability Partner is not a self-descriptor, it’s bestowed by LOCOG. And as much as LOCOG deny it in strictly legal terms, the word commonly used to describe this relationship is endorsement.
Offering this (let’s say) quasi-endorsement places LOCOG in the moral position of accepting responsibility for the creation and satisfaction of criteria which justify the title. Now we’ve no doubt that the PR machines of BP, BT, EDF and LOCOG can easily align behind clear sustainability messaging and proof-points. But it’s a mistake on three counts.
Count one: sustainability is fundamentally about integrated practice. It’s philosophically at odds with sustainability to designate specific partners. Okay, no big deal – but the action of selling a sustainability position to some partners both undermines the remaining partners’ ability to demonstrate sustainability – and in itself clearly creates a lightning rod for green campaigners, placing both OCOG and IOC in a defensive comms position.
Count two, it was unnecessary. The end and means argument of sales expedience hinges on whether it clinched the deals. But we know for a fact that it didn’t pull in GE, Cisco or BMW. BT slugged it out for the partner position with Orange – the title here wasn’t a driver. Certainly not BP, which was always destined to stump up as a solid British citizen and has a sophisticated understanding of sustainability communications (if not PR crisis management). For EDF, who knows, but the point is already won.
It’s not necessary because one critical benefit of Games partnership is that of partners being able to tell the story, as it unfolds, of the contribution they’re making to the staging of a successful event: sustainability stories and credit can only be created by actual sustainability activity.
Count three, it legitimises greenwashing. The notable elephant in the Park of London 2012 is EDF’s status as a major provider of nuclear energy in Europe. EDF has run a five year campaign to position itself as a friend of the environment – without publicly (to our knowledge) referencing the fact that 61.8% of EDF energy is nuclear generated – with its own corporate commitment to renewable energy ranking in the bottom half of the UK’s major energy suppliers. EDF’s own Olympic journey has been greeted with cynicism and dismay at many stages by the green movement – the reaction possibly aggravated by the paid for position of Sustainability Partner.
There’s an argument, which prevails in some countries, that nuclear power is eminently sustainable – but this argument is not about the merits of nuclear power, it’s about sponsorship strategy and communications integrity. Redmandarin has found no evidence of EDF trying to advance the nuclear argument within its Olympic programme.
It claims to have introduced sustainability support materials to 5,000,000 schoolchildren across the UK: Redmandarin hasn’t been able to study these (at the time of publication), but the page on ‘Nuclear power and a safer, cleaner world’ isn’t visible on the contents page. And I wonder how parents would feel about that?
This is LOCOG’s mistake. They sold the title of Sustainability Partner to, amongst others, a business which has at best mismanaged its 2012 campaign (because there was a better way) and at worst consistently abused the title throughout its consumer communications. It could have been worse, but it really wasn’t necessary in the first place.
It doesn’t help London 2012 and it certainly doesn’t help sponsorship.
* EDF has conducted a radical cleanse of its Team Green Britain Day Facebook page in the run up to 2012 – so the evidence of this is no longer visible.