Sponsorship: green wave or greenwash?

Sensemaking / Sponsorship: green wave or greenwash?

Martin Wright, Editor in Chief of Green Futures, reflects on the role of corporate sponsorship – for the Games, and for the magazine.

19 Jul 2012

Martin Wright, Editor in Chief of Green Futures, reflects on the role of corporate sponsorship – for the Games, and for the magazine.

Is sponsorship this summer’s dirty word?

The involvement of major corporate sponsors in the Olympics has led to some fierce criticism. Some see sponsorship as tarnishing the whole spirit of the Games. Others argue that to take money from businesses involved in oil, or nuclear power, or sugary drinks, or any one of a number of other controversial areas, makes a mockery of London’s claims to be the ‘greenest Games ever’. And some view the exclusive rights awarded the sponsors – along with what are seen as draconian efforts to enforce them – as smacking too much of bullying by the big boys.

These are legitimate questions which deserve a response. They could also be levelled at Green Futures: after all, we also enjoy the support of corporate and other partners.

For the Games organisers, the answer is clear. Without investment from the London2012 sponsors, the staging of the Games simply would not be possible. But they don’t just balance the books, says David Stubbs, Head of Sustainability: they bring valuable support in working towards LOCOG’s sustainability goals.

“We are proud to partner with companies that will help us achieve our objectives for delivering truly sustainable Games”, he affirms. “Our sustainability strategy and policies were clearly set out before our sponsors signed up. All sponsors, licensees and suppliers have to adhere to these standards. We are confident that our partners are doing so, and we continue to work with them to ensure we achieve the most sustainable Games possible.”

Stubbs sees delivering the Games as a journey for everyone involved. “We are learning from each other”, he says, “and setting new standards as we go.”

Our view at Green Futures is not dissimilar. Our Special Editions – on subjects as varied as the future of food, retrofit design or the co-operative movement – are made possible by the support of a number of partners. Some of these are trusts and NGOs, others government bodies, and many are businesses. In the case of our Olympics special, Beyond the Finish, they include several of the London 2012 sponsors.

We make no apologies for this – far from it. We are very happy to receive the support of our partners. Without it, we would not have the means to produce and distribute publications like Beyond the Finish to a wide range of readers in business, government, the media and elsewhere.

But in doing so, we are emphatically not giving a blanket ‘green stamp of approval’ to all of our partners’ activities. Virtually every single one of them – along with the vast majority of businesses large and small – engages in some activities that are, at present, unsustainable, and which need to change. But each one of them has the potential to be a wholly sustainable company – even if that might involve some radical departures from present practice to achieve it. And some of their sustainability initiatives around the Olympics – from new transport schemes and construction methods to green energy and youth programmes – are clear examples of progress towards that goal. Small, incremental steps, sure, but they deserve recognition. We hope our coverage encourages others in business and elsewhere to look at ways to emulate, and improve upon them.

Some might argue that, were it available, funding from another source – government or charitable, say – would be preferable; would in some way be ‘cleaner’. I am not sure this is the case. Some of the largest contributors to tax revenues, for example, are businesses which cause huge damage to the environment. And some charitable trusts are themselves endowed with money earned through not exactly sustainable means.

So I am pleased that with Beyond the Finish – as with all our Special Editions and, indeed, the magazine as a whole – we are able to be wholly transparent about the source of our funding.

And when it comes to working with business in general, one thing is certain. If our society is to make the decisive shift towards a sustainable future which is so urgently needed, then we need business – including the world’s major corporations – to play a key role in making that happen. – Martin Wright

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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