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Archive for the ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’ Category

On Earth Day, you’ll hear a lot of businesses talking a big game about how green they are.  But how can you know for certain they’re making legitimate efforts to sustain the environment? What does it really mean to be green? More importantly, as marketers, how can we accurately market green practices without getting lost in the crowd? In the wake of the recent focus on corporate environmental responsibility, businesses have jumped the “green bandwagon” by the thousands.  Unfortunately, most of the discussion about green practices in corporate settings sounds like this: “Everybody loves green! We have to be green! We’re gonna print our marketing materials on recycled paper, so we can tell everyone we’re ‘going green!’”

Studies estimate that more than 80 percent of Americans take a company’s environmental track record under consideration when buying a product. This means that environmentally concerned consumers represent more than $230 billion of spending power. With companies under this kind of pressure to “go green,” it can be tempting to slap a label like “recycled” or “all-natural” on your product or packaging to satisfy the  environmentally-conscious masses and be through with the matter. This is a great start, but it really isn’t what sustainability is all about, or green marketing, for that matter. Green marketing with few or little green practices behind it isn’t corporate sustainability – it’s greenwashing.

Greenwashing occurs when a company spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ via ads and marketing than they spend on actually incorporating business practices that maximize sustainability and minimize environmental impact. The word comes from the commonly used term “whitewashing” – a coordinated attempt to hide unpleasant facts – but within an environmental context. With newly heightened cultural and consumer pressure to effect environmentally conscious business practices, greenwashing is rampant in our marketplace. In order to really effect sustainability in both our buying and selling practices, we need to understand the difference between green marketing and greenwashing.

Here, from a document published by environmental marketing agency TerraChoice, are seven of the most common greenwashing “sins” to be aware of:


Sin of the Hidden-Trade Off

Companies often commit this sin when they tout one small green practice while hiding the overall cost of implementing that practice. For example, it’s great if your company prints on paper made from trees in a sustainably harvested forest in Brazil, but how much energy did you expend in getting that paper? This sin is simple – the sin of showing off an environmental benefit gained at a larger, hidden environmental cost.

Sin of No Proof

This sin occurs when companies make a claim without any proof to back that claim up. To make sure your claims are truthful, invest in formal product certification through a third party.

Sin of Vagueness

The best way to look out for this sin is to beware of “green-ish” terms like “chemical-free,” “non-toxic,” “all-natural” and “earth-friendly.” Just because something is non-toxic doesn’t mean it was made using sustainable practices, and what exactly does “earth-friendly” mean anyway?

Sin of Worshipping False Labels

Have you ever seen a product label claiming something like “The ABCD recognizes this product as earth-friendly?” This type of “false label” tries to greenwash you by leading you to believe the product is endorsed by a third party (usually some kind of environment commission or certification board) when no such certification exists.

Sin of Irrelevance

A “sin of irrelevance” is when a company makes an environmental claim that may be true, but is unimportant. An example would be a pesticide that claims to be “DDT Free,” but since the use of DDT in pesticides is already illegal, this is not really a relevant claim.

Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils

An example is “organic cigarettes” as opposed to regular tobacco, or a fuel-efficient SUV instead of a regular SUV. Yes, the fuel-efficient car is better, but the category of SUVs as a whole is environmentally irresponsible.

Sin of Fibbing

Companies commit this sin when they make environmental claims that are flat-out untrue. Greenwashing reports show that the most common untrue claims are products that falsely claim to be registered or certified by Energy Star.


These seven rules, along with sites like greenwashingindex.com, are useful tools in discerning greenwashing from true green marketing. However, as we sift through both false and honest “green” claims, we must remember something important: being green is not simply about marketing. It’s a lifestyle change. It involves looking at your business holistically – thinking of your space, people, use of resources, and how you interact with the world at large. Need a little inspiration for figuring out how to do so? Check out these companies that have successfully made little changes for a big impact.

  • Rambus, Inc. (www.rambus.com) – this technology licensing company is a great model of humanitarian leadership.
  • Ethletic Sneaker (www.ethletic.com) – does a great job of designing sustainable goods and services.
  • Patagonia Brand (www.patagonia.com) – this popular outdoor gear company created a great strategy for reducing consumption—they completely redesigned their packaging to cost less than 10 cents per unit and reduce huge amounts of waste.
  • Ben & Jerry’s (www.benjerry.com) – Ben & Jerry’s ice cream created grants to educate consumers about the underlying environmental problems in the U.S.
  • Starbucks Coffee (www.starbucks.com) – Starbucks has always been a leader in communicating causes to customers. This company is well versed in both participating and educating customers in various forms of social activism.

It’s easy to spout greenwashing slogans, but it can be hard to start implementing truly environmentally beneficial business practices. If you really want to walk the environmentally conscious walk, you will have to be creative, put in the time, and reorganize your resources. However, once you’ve got this down, you’ve earned the right to market it. We’ve got the resources to help you make sure your marketing pieces follow sustainable practices, from recycled paper to supply chain. With sincere green practices and marketing, you will find that your customers have a greater appreciation for your honesty and responsibility, and that your employees have a greater sense of pride in their company. You can’t ask for better marketing than that.

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I admit it. I am a sucker for a non-profit. I sit on boards, participate in advisory capacities, donate time and anything else I can do to support people who are in the trenches. Working with non-profits is such a great way to feel like I am using my talents to make a difference in some small way.

I see where many companies are embracing Corporate Social Responsibility, but I also see where other companies just can’t seem to wrap their mind around how to do it, especially when it comes to allocating funds that just aren’t there this year.

What these companies are missing is that it isn’t always about the money. It’s about volunteering time. Providing gifts in kind. Participating in the events. Promoting the cause. It’s easy to do, very grassroots… and fun! Here are a couple of things we have going on right now:

Light The Night

Light The Night

On Saturday, I’ve worked with Lea-Ann Berst from Sleddogg Marketing Management and Mary Margaret Harris from Capital Bank to pull together a team of walkers for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light-the-Night walk. I am so excited about this because we have worked to increase awareness of the event, build relationships with business professionals and help fund cancer research… all in one fell swoop. I will be walking for my dad and my uncle, who both died from cancer, for my friends Becky and Suzanne who are currently battling cancer and for all of those who have lost someone dear to them, too.

On a more upbeat note, I recently joined the Assistance League of Raleigh’s Advisory Council. We are sponsoring one of their signature events, Festival of Trees. We’ve helped them put together their invitation package… Here’s a sneak peek:

Festival of Trees 2009

Festival of Trees 2009

Don’t be afraid. Jump right in. A little bit of support goes a long way in the eyes of a non-profit!

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