The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

IBM Public Relations: A Very Embarrassing Mistake

Posted by keith on January 16th, 2009

Don’t hear, don’t see, don’t talk (Copyleft: Bruno Girin, Flickr)

every week I get the usual splurge of emails from companies, big and small, and sometimes PR people representing some of the biggest of the big; like this example sent by IBM Public Relations on behalf of Bosch, Xerox and DuPont, all companies that have a less than excellent record in environmental and social behaviour.

From: Michael Maloney
To: keith@theearthblog.org
Subject: Xerox, DuPont and Bosch Join Eco-Patent Commons

Keith,

I want to let you know that today Xerox, DuPont and Bosch have joined the Eco-Patent Commons, a first-of-its-kind business effort to help the environment by pledging environmentally-beneficial patents to the public domain. The newly-pledged patents include:

– A Xerox technology that significantly reduces the time and cost of removing hazardous waste from water and soil;
– A technology developed by DuPont that converts certain non-recyclable plastics into beneficial fertilizer;
– Automotive technologies from Bosch that help lower fuel consumption, reduce emissions, or convert waste heat from vehicles into useful energy;
– Technologies developed by founding member Sony that focus on the recycling of optical discs.

The Eco-Patent Commons, launched by IBM, Nokia, Pitney Bowes and Sony in partnership with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) in January 2008, provides a unique opportunity for global business to make a difference sharing innovation in support of sustainable development. The objectives of the Eco-Patent Commons are to facilitate the use of existing technologies to protect the environment, and encourage collaboration between businesses that foster new innovations.

The new pledges more than double the number of environmentally-friendly patents available to the public. They are available on a dedicated Web site hosted by the WBCSD (http://www.wbcsd.org/web/epc). Many of the original patent holders have been contacted directly about their patents and we know of at least three patents that have already been used by others since the January launch of the Commons.

Nothing too terrible about this, until you look into the organisation behind this move, the WBCSD — a blatently business-friendly trade organisation that…well, here was my response:

To: Michael Maloney/Somers/IBM@IBMUS
cc: christian.fronek@de.bosch.com ; daniel.a.turner@usa.dupont.com ; Elissa.Nesbitt@Xerox.com ; keith@theearthblog.org ; obm@wbcsd.org ; Shusuke.kanai@jp.sony.com
Subject: Re: Xerox, DuPont and Bosch Join Eco-Patent Commons : The WBCSD are trying to kill us

Dear Michael

The WBCSD are proposing a trajectory for greenhouse gas emissions towards 550PPM by 2050 (http://www.wbcsd.org/web/tmp/policy-low.pdf). This is in stark contrast to the actual scientific findings by NASA chief climatologist Jim Hansen that 350PPM is the maximum permissible to prevent irreversible climate change (http://www.sub350.org/). 550PPM, which all of the contacts on the email below support in principle, will lead to catastrophic and deadly climate change leaving a world where prior human activity is utterly impossible, let alone the business as usual strategy that the WBCSD are pursuing.

No matter, it seems that industrial civilization is on the verge of collapse, and IBM will go the same way as Du Pont, Xerox, Bosch and Sony — all irrelevant icons of a past in which humanity was brainwashed into thinking that this toxic existence was the only way to live.

I recommend you and your colleagues read A Matter Of Scale (http://www.amatterofscale.com – free online), particularly Chapters 11, 13 and 16, and consider whether your job is part of the solution or the problem.

Kind regards

Keith Farnish
www.theearthblog.org
www.unsuitablog.com

Basically, what I did was to CC the company PR people he had listed at the bottom of his original email, and included my own email address in the CC list. If I had thought about it, I would have followed my own rule of putting my address in the middle of the CC list, but in this case it didn’t matter, because Michael panicked:

From: Michael Maloney
To: christian.fronek@de.bosch.com ; daniel.a.turner@usa.dupont.com ; Elissa.Nesbitt@Xerox.com ; keith@theearthblog.org ; obm@wbcsd.org ; Shusuke.kanai@jp.sony.com
Subject: Re: Xerox, DuPont and Bosch Join Eco-Patent Commons : The WBCSD are trying to kill us

Sorry everyone. I’ve sent this blogger news in the past and he hasn’t jumped down my throat like he does below. I don’t recommend that we respond. I guess you can’t please everyone.

Michael Maloney
IBM Media Relations
Energy & Utilities, Chemicals & Petroleum, and Environmental Issues
P: 917-472-3676 T/L: 522-3676 M: 516-578-5535
E: maloney2@us.ibm.com

My emphasis, but do you see what happened? He clicked on “Reply All” and asked his colleagues to not engage me in discussions, essentially because they might say something that the IBM PR machine didn’t approve of.

Well, I wasn’t having that:

To: christian.fronek@de.bosch.com ; daniel.a.turner@usa.dupont.com ; Elissa.Nesbitt@Xerox.com ; keith@theearthblog.org ; obm@wbcsd.org ; Shusuke.kanai@jp.sony.com; Michael Maloney/Somers/IBM@IBMUS
Subject: Re: Xerox, DuPont and Bosch Join Eco-Patent Commons : The WBCSD are trying to kill us

That’s right, everyone, you do as Michael says – rather than make a coherent response, just ignore any attempt to suggest that there is
another way to live.

Now, if I were in your shoes I would consider what the responder has said, read the relevant sections of the book and act like a free-thinking human being.

Your choice, and that’s what life is all about.

Kind regards

Keith

P.S. If being presented with some stark information and choices is “jumping down my throat” then maybe PR isn’t Michael’s ideal vocation ;-)

Sadly, that was that, but I do wonder what they thought of Mr Maloney afterwards, and whether anyone on the list had second thoughts about what they were doing in their current line of work.

5 Responses to “IBM Public Relations: A Very Embarrassing Mistake”

  1. David Says:

    My Hero.

    I always wonder if I should start responding to these idiots instead of just deleting them all; I guess I should, if only for the entertainment factor of watching a PR guy scramble because, well, he is just learning how to use “the email”.

  2. keith Says:

    Thank you :-)

    (and yes, you should, with stroppiness turned up to 11)

  3. David Says:

    I will from now, for sure. That looks like too much fun.

  4. Mark Says:

    What a boob! Thanks again for taking these bozos on!

  5. Dario Says:

    Hi Keith,
    I think your reply was brilliant but you could have aimed higher.
    No matter how tempting (and if you want to be heard by these minds ) you have to force yourself to be completely professional and use positivity instead of negativity.
    This is the very thing that prevented you to receive any real attention or any reply.
    If you pay attention to what you wrote there is a certain sense “you will never change, you will all die… morons”. Which I agree completely. But it could be more penetrating and a lot more fun if you play (and win) at their very game.

    You have to try to use the only language this people understand.
    For instance this is how I would have wrote it:

    Hi Michael,

    I found the news in your email exciting and the but also somehow contradicting with what I learned in recent months. Please help me understand.

    The WBCSD are proposing a trajectory for greenhouse gas emissions towards 550PPM by 2050 (http://www.wbcsd.org/web/tmp/policy-low.pdf).

    This is in stark contrast to the actual scientific findings by NASA chief climatologist Jim Hansen that 350PPM is the maximum permissible to prevent irreversible climate change (http://www.sub350.org/).

    The real concern is that 550PPM, which seems to be what is in principle supported by most, could lead to catastrophic and deadly climate change and beyond that, definitely deprive IBM of the possibility to conduct any business strategy.

    I think this is an opportunity for our company to go above and beyond what Du Pont, Xerox, Bosch and Sony have done. A possibility to foster real beneficial change and not only for the sake of the environment but ultimately as a way to have IBM becoming a true leader in this arena. This sounds like a very powerful message that can elevate the company relevance in initiatives as this.

    I recommend reading A Matter Of Scale (http://www.amatterofscale.com), particularly Chapters 11, 13 and 16.

    Kind regards

    Keith Farnish

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