This Week in PR Ethics (12/10/20): Greenwashing, Wokewashing, and Other Pitfalls and Backlashes

This week in PR ethics there were a number of interesting ethical issues raised related to greenwashing, wokewashing and non-profits as well as a chilling report than 75% of all business workplace conversations will be recorded in analyzed in less than a few years.

  • Greenwashing and PR Agencies – Cleantechnica looked at electric vehicle PR campaigns in Ireland and questioned if PR firms were using disinformation to delay implementation of EV mandates with misleading claims about the internal combustion engine. It is a good reminder that brands need to have solid, third-party data and measurable action regarding their environmental claims.


  • Woke sustainability challenges – Continuing on this theme, the UK Telegraph called some UK financial services firms focus on green funds to be wokewashing designed to deflect attention from poor returns and fees. I think it is an interesting debate, as the more money that is invested in triple bottom line and purpose driven companies the more it can help drive other companies to realize how important it is.


  • Ethical storytelling for non-profits – I enjoyed this article from Nonprofit Quarterly that looked at the ethical challenges nonprofits face when making calls to action, particularly around donations. Where do you draw the line and how do you meaningfully interview and portray people that have experienced trauma without exploiting them? What do you need to ask yourself before writing about vulnerable communities?


  • Diversity backlash and ethics Fortune had an interesting article about the firing of a Google executive who has been critical of their diversity in hiring practices allegedly because of a paper she co-wrote on bias in AI ethics among other issues. This example is great for those that want to discuss ethical issues from diversity in hiring to what freedom should employees have in what they publish?


  • Ethical issues in employee monitoringTechrepublic reported on a Gartner study this week that projected 75% of work conversations will be recorded and assessed by 2025. The goal is to streamline workflows, improve organizations and ensure compliance, but this opens up issues with privacy, abuse, algorithm bias and altered workflows. Where is the ethical boundary?


Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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