spin it to win it

While chewing on my toast this morning I made the mistake of flicking through yet another offer to audit my ethics, measure my carbon and assess my social responsibility. The report arrived in a well presented package that guarantees me success with the merging ethical consumer. It all seems perfectly credible; printed on recycled paper with language that has become more funky and less corporate over the years. The underlying, survival-of-the-fittest premise has not changed and for all but a few lefty freaks, ethics remain a means to an end and that end is unchanged: making money.

There is a huge dichotomy between the motivations that business leaders profess to the public (beliefs and values) and those revealed to investors. Behind the closed doors of the business world growth, shareholder value and dividends are King with ethics tolerated as a means of driving sales and building brand. These individuals may have more altruistic inclinations but within the predominantly macho world of business it is not yet acceptable to admit to them.

Only the most informed consumer could tell the difference between ethics and the appearance of ethics and most of us are just too busy to do the research. This confusion is ruthlessly spun to support brands, particularly in the food industry. One might hope that the Government would provide guidance but unfortunately it plays the same game; just substitute opinion polls for brand.

Take the furore over biofuels. About three years ago we considered installing a plant to convert chipfat to diesel. It took less than a week of research to conclude that the benefit to the world was small, if any. Supply of reusable oil was already taken and palm oil was being imported to turn into diesel. Even without considering the pressure on world food supplies, deforestation and wildlife, the equation of is poor for temperate oil crops like rape. Why is it that biofuels have formed a central plank in so many companies