By Contributing Writer Melissa Chungfat | Part of Green Printer’s ‘Design Goes Green’ dispatch.
Thanks to blogs, websites, Facebook, and the ever-growing list of social media tools, people have the ability and power to educate themselves about anything they please. It is harder for companies to get away with lies about their products and misleading messages. People can easily look up “greenwashing” or “what is an organic product?” in a search engine and in a matter of seconds, they have a list of resources that cuts through the PR.
So how can companies who are taking sincere environmental initiatives market themselves credibly?
Junxion Strategy has some advice. The company is a consulting firm focused on the human dimension of sustainability. Their team has worked on a range of projects from informing the public about the truth behind “clean coal” to the branding and messaging for Forest Stewardship Council Canada. They mentioned a few ways responsible marketers can promote environmental initiatives and products:
1. Consider from all angles why consumers or clients purchase your products. But don’t go right to the green features; understand all of the attributes that matter to them. Weave your brand story from there.
2. Move away from the language of sacrifice. Find ways to talk about how your product or service is easier, healthier, more convenient or lower maintenance. Be positive and solutions-focused.
3. Align your claims with both the product and the way your company operates. People are not that naïve. They will see through disingenuous claims quickly. Or an NGO will. Case in point: the biodegradable credit card.
4. Use your environmental challenges and trade-offs as a way to engage your customers. In fact, an open approach can potentially turn some of them into brand advocates for you. Sherwin-Williams sure could have used this advice with their ‘eco-friendly’ paints.
5. Don’t overtrump the facts. For example, Husky garbage bags once touted their garbage bags as biodegradable. The problem is that the bags don’t biodegrade in landfills. In other words, err on the side of modesty. Remember, language is a powerful device and has the power to lead millions of consumers astray. So when you say ‘fresh’ or ‘organic’, mean it. Check out what Larry Light, chairman-CEO of Arcature, says about marketers using sustainability language to confuse rather than to clarify consumer decision making.
6. Find ways of linking your brand to related causes. Mountain Equipment Co-op has a national partnership with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Association, an effective non-profit wilderness protection organization. It is a sensible partnership since the co-op’s purpose is also wilderness-focused.
7. Involve employees in identifying ways to reduce your product’s environmental footprint to tell your green story. After all, they want to align their personal values at work and feel good about their employer.
1. Don’t trumpet the fact that “we’re green now”. No one will buy that you’ve had an overnight corporate epiphany and nobody likes PR stunts anymore.
2. Don’t use vague messaging or images of mountain valleys and flower petals if they have no credible relationship to your product; it just looks gratuitous. Instead, be specific and meaningful.
3. Don’t talk about commitments; rather, talk about achievements and real, measurable (and preferably third-party verified) outcomes. As a next step, Joel Makower suggests translating environmental data into accessible and relevant language.
4. Don’t overlook leveraging the web and positive word of mouth. Green consumers tend to be better-educated, more web-savvy and more networked. So, turn your customers into brand advocates – online and off.
More companies are taking further steps to have a higher standard of corporate social responsibility reporting for their stakeholders and thus add another level of credibility.
Interface is the first North American carpet manufacturer to complete an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for one of its product lines. EPD provides detailed information on the materials within products, resources required by products, recyclability of products, and the environmental impacts over a product’s life, from production to use and disposal.
Interface received wide publicity for cleaning up their manufacturing processes and working to reduce the environmental impact of their business since 1994. The company not only significantly reduced their impact, but also increased financial returns for their shareholders in the process.
As people become more educated consumers and as the green economy grows, credible green marketing strategies can effectively put you ahead of your competitors. The right messages and visuals will reflect your values to make green work in your favour.