Be sustainable, be green and what does it all mean?

Greenwash It’s all around us. 

Some call it a revolution, others a movement.  But clearly, green is in.  And where there’s in, there is marketing opportunity.  There are now green agencies, green marketing blogs, and even new jargon.

Let’s face it, green has gone mainstream.  Some of it is genuine while others is really more marketing ploy than true activism or product benefit. 

They even have a name for it already….greenwashing.  CK provides this definition in a recent post.  "Greenwashing is "the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service."

As with all "hot" trends, these will shake out.  The companies that can sustain it and walk their talk will reap the benefits of the position.  Those who seized the opportunity with much behind the fanfare will be exposed.

I love this story out of the New York Times.  A group of direct mail companies are trying to create some "green standards" like "list hygiene" which basically means taking dead people off their lists.  Come on.

In the meantime, as we all wrap our heads around the green movement, it’s helpful to have a tutorial or two.  And that’s why Mario Vellandi has shifted his blog (Melodies in Marketing) and his efforts to covering topics in sustainability, product development, design and green marketing.

Mario put together an impressive and exhaustive video series while attending the Sustainable Brands 08 conference.  You can find descriptions of each speaker, some summary and analysis of their presentation and of course, view the videos.  (Note:  Some of the videos have been temporarily removed.  But Mario’s blog and efforts are still worth the visit.)

We all have a lot of learning to do.  Mario’s video series is an excellent start!


15 comments on “Be sustainable, be green and what does it all mean?

  1. patmcgraw says:

    I, too, struggle with the terminology and separating the hype from the value. But we need to dive into this topic and get a clear definition of terms so we can make a positive difference and impact.

    Thanks for sharing Mario’s blog…I have added it to my feeds and it will be a part of my day moving forward.

  2. diana.schaller says:

    I remember the commercials of yesteryear toting plastics as the biggest breakthrough of the 20th century. Now the use of plastic is inching toward a public offense. I especially love the brita commercial practically condeming the use of plastic water bottles; as it pours from a plastic pitcher. Marketing is a powerful tool and changes public perception.

  3. Thanks for the reference Drew. I’m picking out the best of those videos now, adding titling, then the conference co. will review this week.

    The primary problem in green marketing is when eco attributes are promoted as THE value proposition. That’s just philosophically wrong. Even in the fashion industry, one has to sell comfort, price value, style, performance and so on.

    I think it’s simple image-based advertising that one has to be wary of. But if a company is authentic and its affiliation with green attributes is substantive, one has an incredible opportunity to build a fanclub of loyal customers. Method products and 7th Generation are two power brands in the household cleaning category.

  4. Cleaning up lists is a no-brainer for direct mail companies. Why in the world would they want to waste money mailing to people who don’t want to hear from them?

    It always amazes and disgusts me about the amount of credit card offers I receive in the mail. Shouldn’t they understand that since I have never once signed-up for one, I’m probably not interested?

    However, that the industry is even taking steps to be green is phenomenal. I know from my previous job that over 81 billion reply envelopes (not outgoing, just reply) are sent in the US each year. If mailers can up their standards and reduce waste, they can make a significant difference.

    If not, shame on them and all the other greenwashers.

  5. Jim Kukral says:

    Reminds me on when it used to be ok for companies to lie like putting the word “light” on a bottle of oil because the color was light. 🙂

    Greenwashing is something we all need to watch for. My wife has been seeing a lot of it as she goes green. She’s over at

  6. Pat,

    it’s become such a hot issue that everyone wants on the band wagon. Which of course, taints the band wagon for those who have legitimately earned their place there.


  7. Diana,

    It does make you wonder where all of this will go next, doesn’t it?

    Right now, we’re seeing lots of mixed messages and it’s difficult to decide who is really green and who is just making noise to be included in the rush.

    I wonder if there will be a watchdog group that grows out of all of this?


  8. Mario,

    “But if a company is authentic and its affiliation with green attributes is substantive”

    There’s the key phrase. How are consumers supposed to judge that?


  9. Katie,

    Wow….81 billion. That’s staggering. Couldn’t people reply online and save all those envelopes?

    Or do they believe people won’t conduct that kind of business online?

    That’s a heck of a reform that would be required. I wonder how consumers could express their discontent? A virtual sit in, so to speak.


  10. Jim,

    Very true…I wonder where the regulators and watch dogs are.

    I’d love for your wife to come over and share her thoughts too!


  11. Drew,

    Product labels & standards administered by ‘reputable’ organizations, and 3rd party auditing & certification are probably the best vehicles for consumer trust.

    To make it simple, there are single and multi-attribute standards. The first is easier to get; the second is much more comprehensive.

  12. Mario,

    But how does the average Joe learn and understand all of that?


  13. Drew,

    They don’t need to understand it. People that are interested may learn about it through an article, or some future CNN coverage, NPR radio show, or other medium where an ‘expert’ or someone talks a little about it.

    Alternatively, they may see the label on a package and read “fair trade certified”, or see it in an advertisement as a little logo on the bottom corner of the page. Maybe they get a fuzzy warm feeling, maybe not.

    We can’t expect people to read labels and/or care. They just want a terrific value proposition that fits their needs. Oftentimes, they’ll simply rely on the retailer to put something worthy on the shelf. Now that’s the stickler -> retail buyers. They’re already interested in sustainable products, but they too (since this is a nascent field) can get a little confused or overwhelmed by what’s being claimed on products in their category of responsibility.

    From a name recognition standpoint, I believe there are practically two power labels out there right now: USDA Organic, and FSC (Forest Stewardship Council).

  14. Joy Levin says:

    I have also heard that the utility that consumers place on “green” is unclear and whether its perceived value justifies what is almost always a higher monetary cost. They may like the way it sounds, but are they really willing to pay extra? I wondering if there would also be variation in this by industry. For example, the difference between “traditional” and hybrid cars is substantial, but people may be willing to pay for it because it makes them appear visibly “green”. The difference for a packaged good would be much smaller in terms of overall dollars for the consumer, but since no one may “see” them being green, perhaps the consumer wouldn’t be so willing to pay the difference? Just a thought.

  15. Joy,

    An interesting point. How much of the push for “green” is appearance versus conviction?

    I know they’ve proven that when a survey asks if you recycle, a significant number of people will lie to say yes because they don’t want to be seen by the researcher as someone who doesn’t care for the planet.

    But, would someone spend the money for appearance’s sake?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *