How to pitch environmental performance to your market

How to pitch environmental performance to your market

Patryk Kosmider
Marketing a product as green needs to include authentic evidence.

Thanks to industry drivers and growing demand, environmental performance has taken its rightful place alongside functional performance, cost, aesthetics, safety and other criteria in product creation and purchasing. 

Now it is time to include it in marketing.  

Consumers and B2B customers — tired of greenwashing — are beginning to demand scientific evidence and rigorous methodology to support manufacturers’ green claims. So, marketing needs to go beyond mere claims to include verified metrics of environmental performance — delivered in a way purchasers can understand.

Volumes of international standards lay out the rules for measuring, reporting and publishing environmental information about products. These reports are referred to as declarations or disclosures. They are detailed, often lengthy technical documents. 

But environmental disclosures have been intentionally created separate and apart from the other information manufacturers create to market and sell their products.

The word disclosure suggests the unveiling of information the owner would prefer to keep hidden. Indeed, synonyms for disclosure include words such as confession, exposure, leak, betrayal and declaration. Many manufacturers feel this way, which is why uptake of marketing with scientific evidence and metrics has not been rapid. 

Legal issues about disclosing hazards and concerns about numeric results that aren’t actually comparable among products are keeping many manufacturers from being transparent while asking "What’s the value?"

Increasing reporting on a product’s environmental performance, especially in North America, remains voluntary and optional.

But if the only way today’s standards programs allow for providing information is in the form of a technical disclosure or declaration, the value proposition will continue to be difficult to make. It’s a stick, not a carrot.

Real marketing is about what’s true

Manufacturers make trade-off decisions among such criteria as cost, functional performance and aesthetics to determine what products to make and how to make them. And then they market those attributes — low cost, high speed functional performance, beautiful design. 

In the sustainability world, unfortunately, the word marketing has carried a stigma. If it’s marketing, there must be spin and can’t be entirely true. But manufacturers investing in life cycle assessment (LCA), material ingredient analyses and making truly greener products have great stories to tell — stories that demonstrate, using science-based methods, these manufacturers understand their products’ impacts and have knowledge as to where to invest in improvement and innovation. 

Manufacturers should have the opportunity to provide comprehensive environmental performance and material health information to the market in a way that makes it useful, understandable and meaningful — thereby making it easier for stakeholders to make informed greener decisions. Delivering it together with all the other product information would make it easier to manage and more useful for all involved. 

Box-checking isn't real transparency

Today, manufacturers are producing environmental product declarations and Health Product Declarations for specifiers to check the box. They serve one purpose well: they allow specifiers to check a box in the green rating systems, confirming that the analyses have been completed according to the standards. 

But once most manufacturers have them, the playing field will be leveled. And in nearly all of the other ways disclosures might add business value, the current system falls short. Here are just a few:

  1. They are scientific documents. Great for an audience knowledgeable about LCA and material science, they are not of much use for manufacturers’ sales and marketing teams, or for a builder’s efforts to gain community support or to attract tenants. Yet the process itself, the results of the analysis and the move toward improvement all make powerful marketing stories.
  2. They may as well be carved in stone. Environmental reports are presented as static PDF documents, limiting their online searchability and data reuse.
  3. Their presence is not necessarily an indication of a greener product. LCA results do not identify what to do to improve; they only help manufacturers understand where the impacts and environmental burdens are. It’s the same with material ingredient analyses. They identify hazardous ingredients, but don’t explain the exposure concerns and risks, or why the manufacturer chooses to use certain ingredients or what’s being done to make improvements.

In fact, there is much to promote. Manufacturers making greener products are doing so by making informed trade-off decisions. They have understandable and meaningful information to share about how they make their products and what they’re doing across the lifecycle to mitigate impacts and achieve meaningful improvements. This is the information that makes sense to people.

Transparency builds credibility

The value for manufacturers to provide environmental information about products is to build a credibly greener brand — by demonstrating they understand their products’ material health and environmental performance. For consumers to make greener purchase decisions, they need understandable and meaningful information. Truth builds trust, trust builds powerful brands and powerful brands create preference and value for their companies.

We named our company Sustainable Minds because people making products must start thinking the same way before they can act the same way — from a life cycle perspective. It’s time to start thinking the same way about product transparency from "disclosure" to real marketing value.

Sustainable Minds 2015 Transparency Report Framework & Program

As a B2B cloud provider of environmental product transparency applications, services & data, Sustainable Minds recently introduced the 2015 SM Transparency Report™ Framework and Program bringing major advancements to the entire process of creating and delivering product transparency reports.

Since its inception, the goals of the SM Transparency Report Program have been to reduce creation time and cost while increasing the usefulness of the reports to drive greener decisions by making environmental performance information understandable and meaningful. Based on the knowledge that better design makes the complex clear, systems thinking and customer experience are at the core of all Sustainable Minds’ products and services.