Sustainability: Kosher Green

I’ve really noticed an uptick in green discussions here in the print industry. As mentioned, WTT just had a whole green week and, almost overnight, every e-newsletter to which I subscribe has added a section on the environment.

Now, I will be the last person complaining about all this. My enthusiasm for the topic of sustainability has been well documented on this blog, but with any encouragement must come a note of caution (especially on this front). I’ve written about greenwashing a few times, and I’m extending the reminder yet again. As more green discussions happen around you and you’re more tempted to quickly latch on, don’t forget that honesty and authenticity are really at the forefront of this issue. Your customers want your commitment, not your slapped together, “but it has green font!” marketing campaign that really has no chops.

Last week, Brand Channel had a great article, Grading Green: The Watchdogs CMOs Must Appease, that discussed the leading groups that are working to regulate the green front. As the article points out:

In the lawless and unregulated landscape of going green, it became clear that someone, somewhere, needed to step in to provide some semblance of order and a credible means of measuring the myriad of ways companies can go, and pretend to go, green.

I definitely recommend reading the article as it describes the top three watchdog groups and what they’re looking for.

Then yesterday I was reading Seth Godin’s marketing blog and came across this post about the impending backlash against all the green marketing consumers are currently seeing. Seth’s argument tackles the idea of authenticity in a different way; he suggests the power of proof, especially when consumers get sick of all the green marketing and just want the bottom line:

The power of a number is the effect we saw when they put a number on restaurants (Zagats) and wines (Parker) and gas mileage (the EPA). People notice a number, and they work to improve it.

Seth’s thoughts on the topic are very interesting, especially considered in conjunction with the Brand Channel article. The warning signs are clearly flashing and we’d all be wise to heed the alarm.


Sustainability: FTC Examines Greenwashing

I know there have been a lot of sustainability posts lately, but there’s a lot going on recently! This post in particular covers an important development for everyone in the sustainability game–and those thinking about getting in it, too.

The Federal Trade Commission held its first in what will be a series of hearings on green advertising, particularly on the issue of offsets and where money given to offset organizations goes. If you’re unconvinced this is a worthy FTC issue, consider this:

‘Dubbed “the wild west” and “chaotic” by Katherine Hamilton of Ecosystem Marketplace, the U.S. carbon offset market has grown dramatically since 2005 while environmental marketing claims have gone relatively unchecked. Hamilton pegs the U.S. carbon offset market at $91 million. She expects the market to quadruple within the next five years.’

Of course, it’s not just offsets that are going to be considered by the FTC–all green marketing and advertising will soon come under scrutiny. Sites like EnviroMedia’s Greenwashing Index are popping up in an effort to combat and inform consumers about greenwashed claims but government intervention will be the only way to mandate regulation.

The point I’m slowly meandering towards is that everyone, including Four51, talking about sustainability and how they can help (however seemingly insignificant) is wise to be careful and deliberate about what is said because even the best and purest intentions can become problematic if they’re not provable.


Sustainability & Marketing: Getting it right

I wrote about greenwashing a little over a month ago, and seeing this article today reminded me of the importance of being very careful in any and all “green marketing.”

As the article points out, it’s very tempting to get on the bandwagon and start telling the world about all the wonderful ways you’re enabling sustainability; however, this must be done cautiously and deliberately. You would never take a product to market that was ill-conceived, over-priced and illegitimate in the first place, so rushing to get something out just to take advantage of the current green momentum is only a recipe for disaster.

I’d highly recommend reading the full article as the author supplies some mini-case studies on successful green product implementations (Tom’s of Maine, the Prius) and offers some tips we can all takeaway from those stories.


Sustainability: Beware ‘greenwashing’

Ad Age had a post this morning that reminded me of the danger in trying to jump on the sustainability band wagon without any real plan or intention. ‘Greenwashing’ is the term given to those who tout their environmental concerns and actions but who aren’t really doing anything genuine.

Sometimes greenwashing can be done unintentionally, but it must be avoided at all costs because it can be incredibly damaging to your company and your brand if you get caught not doing the things you say you are (or, perhaps worse yet, doing things half-heartedly while exploiting your “concern” in the PR arena).

Especially in a competitive market like print, it’s easy to get swept up with the excitement surrounding a popular cause and find yourself promising things you aren’t doing. I’m sure you’ve seen your local competition starting to promise things–have you seen anyone blatantly greenwashing? (no names of course, but I’d be interested to hear if you know of certain promises that are easy to make and easy to hide their absence…).