PR stunt vs Cause marketing

PR Stund vs Cause Marketing


You may have already noticed how some companies are keen to make it clear to customers how engaged with sustainability they are and how their products are green, eco-friendly, 100% natural, among many other expressions.

Those companies that try to be socially and environmentally responsible can sometimes suffer some backlash. Many argue that those activities that corporations call Corporate Social Responsibility projects are nothing more than a PR stunt. This topic often comes up so often that a new word was created to refer to companies that use sustainability as a marketing tool: greenwashing.

What is greenwashing anyway?

It is called “Greenwashing” when an entity or organization consumes time and money in marketing actions to link its name to good environmental practices instead of actually executing business practices that minimize negative environmental impacts. Prominent environmentalist Jay Westerveld originally coined the term “greenwashing” in a 1986 essay. He claimed the hotel industry falsely promoted the reuse of towels as part of a broader environmental strategy; in fact, the act was designed as a cost-saving measure. Another example would be a company that sells fossil energy but announces in its campaigns that it is working and developing research on renewable energy. However, it never stops using the energy that causes the greatest negative environmental impacts.

But for Chris Jarvis, an employee volunteering and giving specialist, it can be a little bit more complex than that: “I would challenge anybody to show me a company that has done something good for the community where there weren’t multiple motives that benefited individuals, which benefited the company, contributing the profit line as the community. I don’t care about that. That’s fine. The whole greenwashing thing comes into it not because you might have multiple motives for doing it. It’s when the motive is uniquely to deceive somebody. To me, that is really greenwashing when I do something to distract you from seeing what’s going on over here, to change the narrative, that’s greenwashing then becomes propaganda, and propaganda is freaking evil. And people who do it don’t do it by accident.”

Cause marketing: beyond mere sustainability projects

How to make sure that you are developing meaningful CSR projects? We talked to Chris Jarvis to know exactly that. He says that the first point is to make sure that the project itself is made to be transformative. If people are not involved with the cause they are working for, the project is transactional and not transformative.

According to Jarvis, the second point is to put in place indicators to see if changes are happening in three different approaches: psychological, factual, and behavior change. “Do I volunteer more? Am I open to learning more? Do I ask more questions? Am I reading different news sources? Asking those questions can help you measure the impact of the projects. I always just pick three behaviors that line up with what you want to achieve. We follow those psychological and factual, and behavioral changes, and we test for that. So design the space where it can happen and then design the metrics to show you if it is happening,” concludes Jarvis.

Using technology to measure some of these 3 key changes can help you ensure your CSR project’s quality. Optimy can help you with that mission. Our volunteering product empowers your mission-driven company to measure the impact of your projects with our ready-to-use data. This engaging volunteering product enables your employees to:

  • Easily search for and apply for volunteering opportunities.
  • Match skills to volunteering missions.
  • Share efforts and engage with colleagues.
  • Rate volunteering opportunities.


This is why corporate culture needs to put the CSR goals together with any other KPI; to make sure that the transformation happens inside out. The fact that some of these CSR projects can also help with companies branding and public relations should be a bonus, not the main goal. “I think I did call that greenwashing for a little while, but I wouldn’t any longer. I would just say their CSR program wasn’t culturally effective. That’s the problem. So most greenwashing, I would say CSR is culturally ineffective. And so you’re probably going to see much duplicity,” concludes Jarvis. In the end, we can conclude that even those CSR projects that have been created to improve the public opinion towards a certain brand don’t need to be PR stunt per se. If they are transformative projects, they are still worth having it.

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