On October 7, 2014, the internet witnessed the launch of a new online media platform, Collectively.org, which wants to usher us into a brighter, greener, more sustainable future. Great! Me too! It is part of my job.
The primary force behind Collectively is Jonathon Porritt’s blue-sky-minded nonprofit Forum for the Future, and the content is “curated” by VICE Media’s advertorial arm, VIRTUE (red flag #1, perhaps.) But there’s one weird trick here (if you will): This particular venture is collaboratively — and very publicly — bankrolled by a whole slew of major corporations (McDonald’s! Coca-Cola! General Mills! Twitter!), many of which have played a significant role in building models of unsustainable industry.
The venture does make a valid point: Climate change mitigation is going to be essentially impossible without the cooperation of major corporations, and it’s naïve to think that they should be excluded from the process. But for the perpetual cynic (hi!), Collectively could be seen as a very glossy marketing tool for corporate greenwashing:
From time to time you’ll see stories of sustainable innovation from our partner organizations, but they are selected entirely on the merits of their newsworthiness and potential to create positive change. On Collectively, we’re as excited to talk about the work of a social entrepreneur in Kigali as we are to break the news about a global environmental initiative from Nike.
However, the primary problem with Collectively does not appear to be, at least in these nascent stages of its development, that it’s bankrolled by some of the largest corporations in the world. Rather, its content is both formulaic to the point of bizarreness and largely consumer-focused: A two-year-old video of a cardboard bicycle. A piece on sustainable condoms with a confoundingly cringe-worthy headline. A “news” article about why the climate march — which happened two weeks ago — was so successful. (One section has the heading, “Brands Took on a Bigger Role Than Ever.” Hmm.)