Posted to Ben Finklea's blog on April 27th, 2009

Is Going Green Imperative?

Unless you live inside a black hole, you are well aware of the green initiatives taking place throughout every industry in the United States. There are multitudes of reports circulating that offer you too many reasons to go green and become a self-sustaining business. There are just as many companies as there are reports that are completely confused by exactly what becoming ‘sustainable’ really means, and how a company can go about becoming self-sustaining. Recently, the American Marketing Association and Fleishman-Hillard surveyed marketing communication professionals to find out what ‘sustainability’ means to them.

More than half of the respondents (53%) defined sustainability as the internal balance of financial, human and natural resources for the long-term benefit of business and communities. Three percent defined it as a focus on renewable energy resources, while 10% defined it as driving any inefficiencies out of the supply chain. An overwhelming 37% don’t think sustainability is any of these things. There is obviously a huge perception gap over what sustainability is and how ‘going green’ helps a company achieve it.

There are current trends going through most marketing, advertising, and service-based techie companies that focus on the environment, social responsibility, ethical investment, health and well-being. Despite the current ‘R’ word, 73% of consumers said they are still buying green products, as reported by an online poll by Harris Interactive. As consumers identify more and more with green-based policies, they are going to find or switch to ‘green’ brands, especially if their current brand isn’t sustainable. The brand that gets dropped or passed by could very well be yours, if you don’t think that ‘green’ is the new ‘black’ yet.

With that being said, you don’t have to adopt a family of polar bears to get your company invested in green initiatives. However, you soon may have additional motivation, with new presidential administration policies that are rumored to accelerate the adoption of corporate sustainability programs. On example of sustainability is an effort on IBM’s behalf through a Sustainable Procurement Program. They are reducing their energy, water use, waste and toxic materials throughout their supply chain management. The program also addresses supplier contributions to communities, safe labor practices, diverse workplaces, and business ethics and financial standards. These are also addressed in their client’s supply chains as well.

From operations to hardware platforms, there are an abundance of opportunities for companies to invest in sustainable, green practices. Reduction of energy and paper waste are a good start, but that is just planting the seeds. Companies can design or produce their products or services from recycled materials, use alternative energy sources, and take responsibility for the product passed the purchase. These are all ways a company can evolve their sustainability into this century.

But the initiatives must be genuine. Don’t get caught ‘greenwashing’ through your marketing and business practices, or you are in danger of being publicly categorized as a ‘greenwasher’. This means that you promote your sustainability in one area of your business, while all the other areas are still conventionally operating irresponsibly. One way to tell is if your ‘green’ marketing budget is larger than your sustainability budget. If you do this and get caught, your brand’s equity will drop faster than a gloves at a hockey game.

If you are just coming up to speed, a good place to start is education. You should educate the company on strategic and financial imperatives on going green, and then get the message out any way you can: social, mobile, online, and other channels. If you are not sure exactly how to take action, ask your customers what green and sustainability means to them. Use those ideas to build your own unique strategy to creates a green initiative for your company and your customers.

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