HP, Greenpeace, and Aggressive PR

July 30, 2009

You probably are or have used an Hewlett Packard (HP) printer, maybe even a computer.  We should note up front that HP has taken actions to become more environmentally friendly.  The computer industry can generate toxic materials and use them in machines.  On page 261 of our book, Chapter 13 on Corporate Social Responsibility, we note HP efforts to recycle computer and computer-related equipment as efforts to reduce waste.  However, constituents can still pressure for change even as a corporations is changing.  That pressure is designed to keep the change process moving and to shape the direction of that change process.  Check out page 86 and other discussions of the Excellence Dialectic for more on that process.  To learn more about HP’s environmental efforts, visit HP Eco Solutions at http://www.hp.com/hpinfo/globalcitizenship/environment/index.html.

On July 28, 2009, Greenpeace painted the words “Hazardous Products” on the roof of HP headquarters in Palo Alto, CA.  There is a link to a piture near the end of this case.  A message recorded by actor William Shatner (Captain Kirk or Denny Crain depending on your tv viewing) was sent to HP as well.  According to Greenpeace, here is the reason for the action:  “Earlier this year, HP postponed its 2007 commitment to phase out dangerous substances such as brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic from its computer products (excluding their server and printer lines) from 2009 to 2011.”   Greenpeace views the failure to change as unacceptable. http://www.pcworld.com/article/169225/greenpeace_paints_hazardous_on_hps_roof_over_toxics_use.html

Greenpeace created a publicity stunt—an event designed to attract media coverage.  Though not traditional, the rood painting is a form of public relations.  In addition to media relations (traditional and online), the action can be tied to reputation management and corporate social responsibility.  It also illustrate various aspects of activist PR.

HP’s response:  “The unconstructive antics at HP’s headquarters today did nothing to advance the goals that all who care about the environment share.”  http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5gDI09wWmfAmebtCHuoqYVWVMw3cA

As You Sow is another activist group that wants to see the end to BFRs.  Here is a part of their news release about the event:

“Publicly chastening companies has in the past been effective in calling attention to issues such as toxic chemical use, Conrad MacKerron, director of the corporate social responsibility program at As You Sow, said in a telephone interview. “But in the long run, in terms of the actual change, it depends on whether they are making good faith efforts to change things,” he said, adding there could be credible reasons for why they are unable to adapt quickly, such as lack of suitable alternatives. Regarding efforts to recycle electronic waste, MacKerron said there are concerns on both sides of the lifecycle — from production to deconstruction and disposal — and it will take a fair amount of time to clean up an entire sector of business. “The IT industry has been more responsive to stakeholder concerns in a similar amount of time, compared to when we were pressing apparel companies for using sweatshop labor a decade ago,” he said. Indeed, the sector has made efforts to clean up their businesses. For example, Dell sells laptops with mercury-free LED backlighting and offers free computer recycling worldwide. Lenovo sells a PC monitor that is free of arsenic and mercury, as well as monitors that contain 25 percent post-consumer content recycled plastics. In addition, HP plans to release a BFR/PVC free notebook in September, and says that by fall of 2010, all “new commercial products” released will also be free of these chemicals. Between 1987 and 2007, HP recycled one billion pounds of electronic products. At this point in time, the situation has presented a market opportunity for Apple to promote its PVC and BFR-free products over its competitors’ wares. Perhaps competition could be just as powerful of a motivator as public shame to push its rivals to find solutions fast.”

You can read the complete release at http://www.asyousow.org/publications/HP%20Delays%20Toxic%20Phase-Out.pdf


 Link to picture of the roof:

From http://www.greenbiz.com/news/2009/07/28/greenpeace-hp-hazardous-products


Questions to Consider

  1.  Does the Greenpeace effort hurt or help efforts to change HP’s behavior?
  2. Chapter 5 on activism talks about different PR actions taken by activists?  How would you categorize Greenpeace’s efforts here?
  3. How does As You Sow’s PR efforts differ from Greenpeace in this case?  Which do you think is more effective and why?
  4. How can As You Sow and Greenpeace be used to illustrate the idea of moving the middle (p. 101)?
  5. How does HP’s environment efforts and communication about those efforts increase their concerned about the negative publicity about  BFRs?
  6. What ethical concerns do you see with Greenpeace’s aggressive PR.

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