Change washing applies to any organization making superficial changes in an attempt to appear socially responsible or environmentally conscious. In other words, change washing (noun): the process of introducing reforms that claim to bring about change. But fail to result in any substantive shifts in systems, services or culture.
For example, a company uses eco-friendly packaging or advertises a new “green” initiative. And at the same time, continues to engage in environmentally harmful practices like deforestation.
We now have enough evidence that shows that putting more and more layers of lipstick on a bulldog simply irritates the dog. As Rosabeth Moss Kanter says, “The bulldog’s appearance hasn’t improved, but now it’s really angry.”
Force for Good
This brings us to the reality that an increasing number of companies around the world are certified as a B Corp, which means they are a “force for good.” There are about 6,400 certified B Corps around the world across 158 industries.
There are claims that B Corp-certified companies outperform in revenue growth, investment levels and employee retention rates. The certification not only helps companies with their image, it also appeals to potential employees who are interested in meaning work tie to a greater social purpose.
However, at the same time, there is also increasing questioning of change washing with the emergence of large multinationals seeking certification. Are they truly a force for good or simply “less bad” for society and the environment?
The B Corp movement’s purpose was rooted in being a gold standard for environmental, social, and governance performance. And early adopter certified companies were smaller businesses. But as public pressure increased for accountability and social responsibility, multinationals have seen certification as a route to placate customers and retain employees.
Real or Change Washing?
Nespresso, a subsidiary of Nestlé, was certified as a B Corp. Nespresso coffee faced criticism for its unethical sourcing practices, focused on its harmful environmental and social practices. And that the coffee beans used by Nespresso are grown in countries with low environmental and labor standards. And there are also questions whether the company exploits farmers and price gouges.
Similarly, Unilever, who has a history of prioritizing profits over social and environmental responsibility, bought Ben & Jerry’s for $326 million in 2020. Some believe this was a strategic move to improve its image as a socially responsible business community member, and not a genuine commitment to the values of the B Corp.
When a company becomes a B Corp, there is an expectation that it really prioritizes people and the planet. But that this is not always the case.
Made with Greed or Love?
While certifications are important, what is our role? At the end of the day, we need to be conscious of who we trust and get to the source of everything. Can we govern and regulate our own consumption?
A few years ago, I experienced a health issue and sought the advice of an osteopath. During my consultation, he asked me to bring the supplements I was taking so he could examine them.
What he shared with me next was both unexpected and thought-provoking. He explained that when we consume anything made with greed, such as food produced with the sole intention of making profits, we are essentially ingesting that energy. The energy and intention behind the production of food and supplements can affect our health and well-being.
Now imagine, we take this into every realm of our lives and become aware of the energy and beliefs we consume.
Consuming products made with love and positive intentions—people +planet— can nourish us not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. By doing so, we can nourish ourselves in more ways than one. No change washing need come with us.