Pledgewashing is the act of pledging to do something and then following up with little to no meaningful action in a bid to avoid doing anything that actually matters.
And honestly, I am so damn bored of it.
Not because I don’t believe in the good intent, but because I think pledge-washing is contributing to a dangerous amount of inertia and apathy. Governments have signed up to pledges, businesses have breathlessly fallen over themselves to pledge their commitment to a cause and now the general public can spend a few meaningless hours Googling different pledges that come complete with social media badges and banner graphics.
I’ve done my fair share of pledging, both professionally and personally.
I’ve declared a climate emergency amongst other business leaders or agreed to do no harm as a creative. I’ve pledged to ride my bike more (rarely executed) or read more articles on the environment (more frequently executed).
Take a stroll on the streets and ask anyone if they’d like to live in a more sustainable world with less emissions and greater access to a healthier lifestyle and you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t want that future. They’d pledge their pants off to showcase just how much they would like that future.
But then ask them what they’re willing to sacrifice to get there and you’ll get a mixed bag of responses. In fact, according to a recent article in The Guardian, the greater the impact on lifestyle, the less likely someone is to support the action when it comes to climate change.
Here is where pledges go wrong. They don’t cost anything.
Pledges cost nothing. It costs nothing for a business to say it will be ‘net zero’ in 20 years. If we’re honest, it probably doesn’t cost a government much to turn up to a conference once a year and pledge to do more to reduce emissions. And then promptly head home and do fuck all.
The impact pledge-washing has is to create a false sense of action and a shared sense of sanctimony.
174 countries + EU pledged at COP21. We all know how that’s going.
There are 17 SDGs that UN members have pledged to tackle. Not one is on track. Some, (End Poverty) have gone backwards in recent years.
We cannot pledge our way out of this situation.
So here’s my ask. For any pledge that you create, ask for the evidence to track it.
For any pledge that you make, have the fortitude to share your journey, ups and downs, warts and all.
And for anyone thinking that the challenges we face can be met without sacrificing anything other than a few clicks of a mouse, then I hereby pledge my continued ridicule of your naivety.