Development Crossing

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainability

This post's title, "Talk About a Crock...," is the title of a recent blog post by Bob Lutz, GM's product development chief. His post discusses the backlash he has received from the online community about comments he made last month about global warming, which he apparently called a "total crock of shit." On his blog, Mr. Lutz says, "My beliefs are mine and I have a right to them, just as you have a right to yours. But among my strongest beliefs is that my job is to do what makes the most business sense for GM."

Referring to the backlash he has received, he went on to say, "What they should be doing, in earnest, is forming opinions not about me but about GM, and what this company is doing that is — and will continue to be — hugely beneficial to the very causes they so enthusiastically claim to support." Fair point, but as a Vice Chairman of GM and its product development chief, doesn't he represent the company and its new line of products? Doesn't he contradict himself when in discussing the Chevrolet Volt (GM's plug-in hybrid concept car) program, Mr. Lutz says, "The Chevrolet Volt program is occurring under my personal watch, because I -- and others in senior management -- believe in it."

So he clearly sees the business potential for GM to move into more eco-friendly products, but if he doesn't believe in the reason customers are demanding the product, and others like it in the first place, is he really the best man for the job? Talk about a "crock" indeed.

Read his blog post here.

Views: 56

Comment by Becky on February 26, 2008 at 4:47pm
I think that Lutz’s opinions on global warming are unfounded and, well, stupid (not to mention rude, and probably against some company policy that recommends not using the phrase “total crock of shit” in GM publications). But I’m surprised to find that I totally agree with his business rationale and his reasoning that the public should be “forming opinions not about me but about GM.” I, honestly, don’t care what Lutz thinks, as long as his corporation as a whole is acting in a more eco-friendly way. It’s not why the company changes that matters, it’s the fact that they changed at all.

This is reminiscent of Nike’s backlash against its labor practices in the 1990s. The corporation was widely criticized for human rights violations involved with using sweatshop labor to produce its shoes and other athletic apparel. Because the violations were due to improper subcontractor practices, not practices within Nike’s direct chain of supply, Nike denied responsibility for moderating labor conditions. But this soon became a public relations nightmare, as sales declined and increasing numbers of groups boycotted and protested Nike products. Eventually, Nike vowed to clean up its subcontractors’ factories, making it very clear the whole time that their anti-sweatshop campaign was about public relations, not human rights. And it worked – Nike’s public reputation was saved, and, more importantly, they greatly reduced their human rights violations and labor issues (although it’s debatable whether they reduced them enough – but that’s another story altogether).

So I’d be just fine with GM following in Nike’s footsteps on this one. Of course I’d love for sustainability to be near and dear to their hearts, but if the change ends up coming from public relations and market forces, so be it. GM’s development of more eco-friendly models like the Volt is a tribute to the dedication of customers who demand energy efficiency, and “vote with their pocketbooks” to ensure that companies catch up to environmental standards. Lutz’s comments are a reminder that sustainable practices aren’t necessarily going to come organically from within companies – we as consumers need to stay active in demanding better practices. We need to voice our outrage at bad corporate practices and support positive steps with our purchases.
Comment by Humanitarian Media Foundation (HMF) on February 26, 2008 at 5:42pm
I think that we all have opinions which we probably shouldn't say out loud, and which we keep to ourselves. I think in this case he should have perhaps thought about his words before speaking them--even if they were his opinion, to which he is completely entitled. It's a matter of judgment as an executive. Any good executive is going to make sure he adequately supports the efforts of his company, without personally undermining its image. No doubt, he had to know his words would somehow be associated with him in his role at GM. We each play various roles in our lives--parent, executive, etc...and each has its modes of decorum and appropriate means--and subjects--of discourse. Whatever his opinions, it was an error in judgement in context to the role he plays for GM.

On another note, I think we do need to get away from naming something "Global Warming" and truly adopt "Climate Change." The climate--and nature--are more powerful than we are, and both will adjust themselves accordingly according to what we do, including how badly we behave in terms of our abuses of the environment. Geologists know well that what may be warm at one point may be frozen the next--what may be vast swamp or inland seas may be desert during another epoch--and this has been the case millions of years before the industrial revolution. The moment we think we're more powerful than nature, we'll have a very poignant reminder that we're indeed not. All we can do is make sure we behave as responsibily as possible in doing our part for the health of the planet, and perhaps be a bit more humble before Nature herself.
Comment by Roger Tompkins on February 26, 2008 at 5:46pm
Becky,
I see your point in saying that we as consumers should be happy that GM is looking at more eco-friendly vehicles but at the same time, I don't think that's quite enough. From a customer point of view, I expect more thought leadership from executives of such powerful corporations. If in today's world, an executive of an automobile company can honestly look at the evidence that is presented and say global warming is a "total crock of shit," I have to question is logical reasoning and his intelligence for that matter.

From a business perspective, Lutz's lack of belief in global warming may demonstrate why the company has been losing market share to its counterparts that were earlier to the "green" party and placed a greater focus on hybrid technology from the start. Therefore, Bob may finally see the business potential of global warming, but if anything, he saw it late, and his lack of belief in it could be one of the many reasons the dinosaur of an organization lost a potential opportunity to grab an advantage over its competitors.

Regarding your point about Nike...while I agree with your points, I would have to say that if you were to ask Nike about its beliefs on child labour, it would more than likely say that it agreed that it is wrong and it doesn't agree with it. Nike's action to say it was a PR motive seems more as a defense mechanism to not want to admit guilt To your point, it may not have been guilty of any wrongdoing in the first place, at least not directly, as it was through subcontractors, and saying it was about human rights would have been admiting some level of guilt.

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