Who's Really Green?
In the book Hip: The History, author John Leland points out how corporations historically co-opt anything “hip” as a marketing tool. Jazz, The Beats, punk rock, surfing - all of their associated attributes have been used to brand and sell.
Now “Sustainability” has gone mainstream, and just about every company is proudly waving a green flag in their communications. Suddenly they’re devoted to healing Mother Earth, to making healthy products, to creating a better future for the children.
Many businesses do have pure intentions, but others are using the sustainability message as an obvious PR stunt. As such, sustainability is becoming diluted, just as beatnik idealism did in the late 1950s: the notion gets watered down, losing much of its authenticity and eventually its real meaning.
Problem is, people are increasingly interested in working with, and buying from, companies that care about the environment, yet there’s no clear way to distinguish the genuine from the poseurs. As I pondered the question, I reached out to Eric Corey Freed, Founding Principal of organicARCHITECT, an award winning architecture and sustainability firm in Portland and a long time client.
“Greenwashing is a common mistake companies make when talking about their sustainability initiatives”, Eric said. “While they are excited about their efforts toward greening their company, their customers have a difficult time telling the difference between fact and fiction. If a company is using a lot of confusing jargon or technical terms, then things may not be as simple and green as you may hope.
"A product with only 4% recycled content is never impressive, no matter what the manufacturer tells you. Look beyond the marketing speak for trusted certifications from third parties (verification is good); look for a commitment to improve over time (sustainability is an ongoing commitment); and look at how transparent they are with their data (if it gets measured it gets managed.) Your customers don’t expect you to be perfect, so don’t try to be. Share your successes, but also own up to your shortcomings and you’ll uncover a new audience.”
Indeed, as Eric points out, just because you say, or sincerely believe that you’re sustainable, doesn’t mean you are. Feel-good slogans won’t do the trick. Let others validate your green status. Your brand will be better off in the long run.