5 Lessons from AirDye on Building a Strong Green Brand

Textile dyeing and treatment causes 17 to 20 percent of industrial water pollution, estimates the World Bank. All counted, the industry dumps 72 contaminants into the water supply. Current water filtering technology is unable to remove 30 of these toxins.

A startup recruited CEO Larry Levy and chief sustainability/marketing officer, Paul Raybin to turn its innovative dye technology into a commercial product and market it. That was eight years ago. Since then, AirDye Solutions  developed a green product to remake the textile industry's water intensive and polluting dyeing process.

The AirDye process is different. Rather than using water to dye the fabric and then clean-up the water, AirDye uses no water to color synthetic fabrics. Hence there is no toxic water created. A heat transfer process injects dye directly into the fibers in the form of a gas which fuses dye to fabric.

More than green benefits were required to shift an industry maniacally focused on its margins. Five marketing strategies emerged that could be used by any company seeking to build a successful green brand.

1. Define a Unique Position

After many months, the proverbial "aha moment" struck Raybin. He realized the new process required no water. This would be the new brand's focus.

This was several years before water issues were mainstream. Most sustainability brands were selling energy savings or greenhouse gas reduction, which was also an option for AirDye since the new process uses energy frugally.

But Raybin, trained as a marine biologist, understood the ecology of water. He agreed with thought leader Jacques Leslie, who predicted that "water will be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th: an increasingly scarce but crucial natural resource."

Raybin believed that the consumer would connect to water issues. First it is easier to communicate about water. People can visualize a gallon of water while a ton of greenhouse gas is abstract. The impact of water issues is evident right now. The unnaturally colored industrial waste water dumped by some manufacturers is a visually compelling story.

Water is already scarce in much of the developing world. We can empathize with the women and children who may spend up to half a day finding water and then carrying it back home to the family.

Once the brand focus was determined, a name that reinforced the position was needed. AirDye was selected, a poetic contrast to the current water-based method. Its original moniker, P3 (Permanent Performance Printing), would be retired. The name of the company was also changed from Colorep.

2. Get Hard Data

To substantiate their environmental claims, AirDye hired FiveWinds International to review its new process and complete a lifecycle analysis. An LCA is a rigorous ISO compliant standard that measures the total environmental footprint of a product or process.

To highlight the improvements provided by the new process, AirDye would also need a LCA for the existing wet dye process. Raybin laughed and said, "I was naive to think we could easily get the data. As we investigated, we found that factories that are polluting lakes, rivers and streams are not publishing data."