Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Green and sustainable in a political context – Part 6: defining and maintaining a stable sense of Green and sustainable as a core principle

Posted in social networking and business by Timothy Platt on November 3, 2010

This is my sixth posting on developing and sustaining a Green and sustainable organization or movement in a political context with preceding installments appearing in Social Media and Business as postings 85 through 89. This is also a relatively direct continuation of Part 5: Defining and Maintaining a Stable Core Identity While Effectively Connecting Out.

My area of focus in that installment was to at least start a discussion of a conceptual conflict that can develop for any nonprofit, and certainly for those that seek to address missions that are at the same time important and controversial.

• In order to maintain a core identity and remain a viable organization with an effective mission focus, you have to manage and control your brand, your message and your core priorities – collectively your core identity.
• At the same time, any real strength and capacity to meaningfully act on the goals of your mission and vision calls for an opening up to larger communities. That means bringing members of those communities to see value in being actively involved too – and actively participating. And each and every member of those larger communities bring their own level and direction of understand as to your organization’s goals and priorities. They even bring their own biases and preconceptions as to what some of the core terms that you use mean.

Much of this series has been about language, and for a reason. Political movements work or die on the basis of how words are selected and used, and on how effectively and clearly those words resonate outward as calls for action. As a digression into United States politics, by way of working example and the day after our 2010 mid-term congressional elections, Democrats would like to be able to call themselves “liberal”, but that word has been twisted and poisoned to blot out its effectiveness. Republicans have in turn seen their key self-defining words including “conservative” dissolve into ineffectiveness as its positive meaning and connotation give way. So Democrats are trying out “progressive.” Republicans are still just coming to see that their words like “conservative” no longer hold anything like their original meaning in a political context either, and that they are not longer of help to them. All these words become as if curses in public debate when they are systematically used as pejoratives in presenting an opposition case. And when political movements and parties cannot even express who they are in a mutually understood manner, they cannot even begin to negotiate together across their differences to find mutually agreed upon resolutions. Right now neither party has the tools they would need to even effectively state the positive values that they themselves would seek to promote.

Words like “Green” and “sustainable” are also subject to misuse, misdirection and misunderstanding and certainly where nonprofits and for profit big business interests collide. And I would discuss this in terms of three potential land mines of misunderstanding:

• Stereotypes.
• Simplifications.
• Intentional misuse in marketing and related contexts, and here I primarily refer to how groups politically opposed to a Green and sustainable movement would seek to redefine the field. This is where my example drawn from US politics becomes all too applicable.

For purpose of this discussion, I will focus on stereotypes and simplifications as the political dialog equivalent of randomness. They come in as an inevitable source of background static from ongoing interactions and participation from supporting communities. Sometimes your supporters misstate, and even when they speak as if for you. Sometimes, though fortunately less often, they can become as if your most detracting opposition and certainly when they speak out in your support and on your behalf but with a message and approach that offends or seriously misleads and undermines. And confusion and misstatement can and do come from within the organization itself too, at times. That isn’t exactly the part of an organization’s history that most Marketing and Communications departments would want to highlight but miscommunications can even come from the people tasked with developing message and keeping it on track and focused.

The more important of the three categories I cited above is the third, and for no other reason than the fact that this tends to be systematic, organized, and ongoing. Random simply comes and goes, and in a scattershot manner that can be addressed, and largely on an equally incident by incident basis. The third category more reflects what has happened to national politics and political discourse, and to civility and understanding in the United States, turning back to my example above. This calls for a more through, systematic and concerted response.

The Democratic Party in the United States was very slow to even begin to see that their Republican opposition had started a systematic and ongoing campaign to in effect take over the dialog by taking over the language, starting with key defining terms such as “liberal.” The Republicans in turn have been slow to realize how they have been damaged by this and even by their success in it. Even now their party leadership still substantially fails to see that if they succeed in destroying the defining terms that their political opponents would use to self-define, they do so at the cost of destroying the very terms they rely on for this too, in defining themselves.

But in a Green and sustainable context, and with organizations and movements in mind that would promote them, the two edge sword effects of this type of attack do not matter. Reflected damage comes second and later, back on the organizations that launch these attacks. Their goal should be in knowing on an ongoing basis how their key words are used and misused so they can launch vigorous responses to correct the record and to better inform when needed, and early when needed. Their goal should be to counter and as quickly and effectively as possible when they do see a misinformation campaign attack on them developing.

The issues I write of here have played out in healthcare with smoking and cancer: big tobacco and public health, and more recently for healthcare reform in the United States. The second example there is, of course, still ongoing and in fact both are. There is so much money involved in Green and sustainable, and at least short term in opposing them that every form of political action and tactic can and should be expected. And they all come down to language, and to words used. Here you have to cultivate a clear and compelling and well articulated message with words that hold consistent meaning if you are to develop and preserve your core message and your organization’s core identity and values.

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