Thursday, March 11, 2010

Big Corporation Does Less Than It Should To Save World

So a few weeks ago, I wrote this post poking fun at Product RED and the consumers that purchase those products. (Full disclosure: I own a RED t-shirt from the GAP. I enjoy wearing it. Gasp!) This post was picked up by the almighty William Easterly and re-posted on his site.

The comments that resulted are a very engaging and thoughtful discussion of the benefits and drawbacks of the RED brand and embedded philanthropy in general. It even prompted a response post on New Millennial, which is a good summary of the merits of RED.

In the comments, there was a lot of speculation about what I was getting at in the post, and honestly, I was just trying to be funny. (Not incidentally, Professor Easterly has taken a lot of heat recently for his focus on satire. I am truly sorry I contributed to that.) One commenter took it upon himself to fight fire with fire with his own response satire, titled "Big Corporation Does Less Than It Probably Could to Save the World."

Most of the defenses of embedded philanthropy and Product RED--besides the awareness-raising aspect of it, which I think is valid--are centered around this point: "It's not a lot, but hey, at least it's something." Besides being funny, I think attacking this claim was what I wanted to accomplish with my satire. That line of thinking, when applied to both consumers and organizations, breeds complacency in the current situation and mediocrity in our actions.

The New Millennial post linked above states that the point of Product RED is not to increase consumption, but to alter consumer behavior. Whether or not this is true is up for debate, but even if that were the case, altering consumer behavior should never be the stopping point of any social-change campaign. I have no inherent problem with RED products (see note about shirt above) or the non-profit it works with, but I think the fact that the arguments for embedded philanthropy are "Hey, it's something," shows how detrimental this option is to the consumer.

We always need to push ourselves, whether that be in our giving or in the work that we do. We must never accept a small purchase as "our part" to create change. Even it is something, it is not enough. And it most certainly doesn't preclude you from doing more.


  1. I am please you are bringing this complacency to light. This is the problem I have with the whole "buy this, give a buck" method. We can feel like we have accomplished something and are doing good, but come on!

    Re-thinking our philanthropy can help change this.

  2. I often think of the "doing our part" mentality from the Hilfiker article we've talked about in these scenarios. Buying a RED scarf for my friend for Christmas certainly isn't doing my part, but perhaps it's taking advantage of an opportunity to do part of my part in what is otherwise a purely business transaction.

    Not so much "hey, it's something" as much as it's "hey, it's something I can do with this purchase."