Be Seen; Be Green!

Be Seen; Be Green!

What used to be concern for "the environment" has now morphed into a larger issue: sustainable development. It's a simple concept rooted in the need to manage our resources so that they'll be there in the future, and it encompasses the environment, economic development, and equitable distribution of resources for all the world's people. Here's why it matters to you:

Sustainability is being driven by four main factors: Concern over the state of our environment; pressure from regulators to take back products for recycling and curb air emissions, among other measures; potential new market opportunities for sustainable technologies, such as those involved with energy and resource management; and new demands from customers and myriad corporate stakeholders. It is this latter area where small green businesses have an opportunity to shine.

These days, stakeholders are interested in more than a corporation's hefty bottom line. According to the Millennium Poll on Social Responsibility, 60% of 25,000 consumers in 23 countries say they expect businesses to tackle fair labor practices, business ethics, and environmental cleanup -- in addition to delivering profits and jobs.

One critical implication of stakeholder scrutiny is that companies must be green and seen as such, and not just among the folks who buy their products, but also those who live in their communities, work in their factories and influence policymaking. A few strategic green marketing strategies can help.
  1. Adopt a thorough approach to corporate greening. Programs and projects I'm involved in these days tell me the bar has been raised to include strategic energy management in offices and will soon include a green fleet.
  2. Make a highly visible CEO the centerpiece of your corporate social image. Ice cream mavens Ben and Jerry, Patagonia’s Yvon Chouinard, The Body Shop’s Anita Roddick, and Tom’s of Maine’s Tom Chappell have put a face on their companies' commitment to sustainability -- sending a message to all stakeholders that someone is personally responsible for managing all three of the company's bottom lines.
  3. Be transparent. Just the way chemical companies found that plant neighbors were more comfortable after having a peek inside the gate, stakeholders want information so they can make decisions about such things as stock picking, potential opportunities for advancement, or potential health risks. Make sure the information you provide is easy to understand, comparable across companies and industries, and credible. To fulfill these needs, many companies have signed on to the CERES Principles and the Global Reporting Initiative to ensure uniform disclosure of performance on a number of social and environmental criteria. The CERES Principles have been endorsed by Stonyfield Farm, Aveda, and Walnut Acres, who stand shoulder to shoulder with corporate giants GM, Ford, and Bethlehem Steel.
  4. Work cooperatively with third parties such as government agencies and environmental groups. Today's consumers believe environmental goals don't have to be achieved at the expense of the economy, and that progress can be made if various sectors work together. In Chicago, a Clean Cities Coalition sponsored by the Department of Energy is coordinating the efforts of the local U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office, industry and others to promote markets for alternative fuels.
  5. Communicate vigorously your company's commitment to accountability and continuous improvement. To reach all your various stakeholders, you'll need a mix of media and approaches. Some good ones include annual environmental reports (does your company have one?); Web sites; corporate advertising and public relations; cause-related marketing (76% of consumers today say they will switch brands or retailers if price and quality are equal and the company is associated with a good cause); certifications and ecolabels such as EPA's Energy Star; awards programs; and plant tours and Earth Day events for the community.
  6. Act now. A window of opportunity exists for small businesses to establish their sustainability bonafides. According to a recent cover story in Business Week, 72% of Americans think big business has too much power over too many aspects of their lives. Fully 66% think businesses put profits ahead of product safety and reliability. The sentiment against big businesses is pervasive; Firestone just might not recover.

Jacquelyn Ottman is president of J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., a NYC-based marketing consulting firm that advises companies on how to develop and market environmentally sound products. She is the author of Green Marketing: Opportunity for Innovation, available from the GreenBiz Bookstore. This column is © J. Ottman Consulting, Inc., and is reprinted from In Business magazine, a GreenBiz News Affiliate.