The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands

I am always excited and energized by the environmental professionals at the world’s largest brands who have devoted their careers to helping their companies align environmental responsibility with business success. In the case of Al Ianuzzi, this has been a three-decade-long quest, one that has contributed mightily to placing his employer, Johnson & Johnson, consistently among the world’s most admired companies. Along the way, Ianuzzi — J&J’s Senior Director Product Stewardship, WW Environment, Health and Safety — has watched his and other companies try, with varying degrees of success, to build green brands and products.

Now, he’s brought that expertise to a new book, published today: Greener Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands. (Full disclosure: I wrote the book's foreword.) Recently, I asked Ianuzzi to talk about the book and what he’s learned.

Joel Makower: So Al, why another book on green marketing?

Al Ianuzzi: Actually, this is a book on developing greener products and marketing the greener attributes of your products. I know there are books out there on designing for the environment and on green marketing, but I was not aware of any books that combined the two, and I think that’s critical.

Makower: It’s interesting that Johnson & Johnson isn’t widely seen as a green marketing company. That is, if you name the companies that are actively doing green marketing, I’m not sure J&J would be on that list.

Ianuzzi: I didn’t write this book as a Johnson & Johnson employee. This is written by me as an individual practitioner in the field. Johnson & Johnson is very conservative when it comes to communicating externally, and we’re just starting to get going on trying to do green marketing ourselves. It’s something that we’re very shy about.

Makower: Tell me a little bit about what J&J’s green marketing journey has been and how it’s informed what you’ve written.

Ianuzzi: We didn't really embrace green marketing until about three years ago. We made it one of our objectives to focus on. I’m part of the worldwide environment health & safety group, and we have always been developing greener products. I mean, we’ve had a Design for Environment program since the late 1990s, and we’ve had product stewardship goals from the early ‘90s, like minimizing packaging, but we’ve never really tried to take it to our customers. We realized that we were going to have to communicate that because a lot of other companies are doing that, including our competitors, and our customers assume we’re not doing anything if we don’t speak about it.

So it is becoming a business necessity to let our customers know about the greener products that we have and the greener attributes of our products, and we see that across all three of our sectors. We operate in consumer products, pharmaceuticals, and medical device and diagnostics, and all the customers are looking for greener products. It’s more becoming a necessity.

Makower: I think what you’ve just described fits the majority of companies, particularly large ones, but also lots of small to midsize ones, that have for years have been engaged in waste reduction, energy efficiency, reducing toxics and everything else, but haven’t for whatever reason found need or desire to talk about it. I think in some ways, J&J may be a poster child for that whole phenomenon. What have you learned about how companies start talking about this stuff in a way that doesn’t get them into trouble?

Ianuzzi: First of all, you have to have a greener product to talk about it, and it’s got to be legitimate. It’s got to be based on real improvements that you can demonstrate, and that are based on data.

Whenever we talk to our attorneys about speaking publicly about anything on a product that’s improved, you’ve got to jump through all types of hoops. The first things most attorneys say is, “No.” So you have to convince them that there’s real data behind it. And once you have good data, it has to be communicated in an appropriate way so that you’re not exaggerating your improvements. It has to be based on what I would say is sound science and data.