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Learned: Beyond Thinking Green

09/01/10 5:55PM By Andrea Learned
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(HOST) Consumers are starting to expect sustainability from the brands they buy. Commentator Andrea Learned thinks the time is ripe for companies to go beyond green labels.

(LEARNED) It never ceases to amaze me just how much my women’s market knowledge directly applies to the realm of green business.  With only a minor adjustment, the core concept in Don’t Think Pink, the book I co-authored on marketing to women, could easily be exactly the same for what might be my next book: Don’t Think Green. If you want to reach women, you've got to "do" pink - not just think it.

The same goes for doing green.

So, while I accept that thinking and labeling green can be a brand’s first step, it has to translate into real action and business integration.  

Think about it from my women’s market perspective for a minute: Most businesses have gone from seeing women as this separate, "emerging" market to now understanding that they practically ARE the market.  And women EXPECT that brands will serve their needs without a pink or "for women" label.

We now seem to be reaching that same historic point in the sustainability realm.  The consumers most brands want to reach are onto that sleight-of-hand labeling trick.  Instead, they are rapidly coming to EXPECT sustainability from brands at every step.

That being the case, many types of green marketing can hurt more than help the situation.  If your company needs to shout about it with a label, for example, will your customers believe you intend to fully integrate sustainability? Maybe not.  A squeaky green wheel does, initially, help call attention to your company’s shift.  But the wise brand greases that wheel and makes sustainability a fluid and integral part of their every function.

Take green-labeled MBA programs, for example.  Universities can’t just teach all the traditional classes on one hand, offer a green seminar or two, and call themselves green.  But quite a few seem to be doing just that.  Prospective students see right through it.

One place where quite a few industries are getting beyond green labeling is in packaging.   Big corporations like Unilever are now re-designing their packaging to take up less space and use fewer resources to make.  Car manufacturers like Ford are addressing packaging on a grander scale, having quite visibly shifted from huge trucks and SUVs to smaller models.

Finally, brands like Best Buy and Nike are publicly stating their commitment to making quality products, so that consumers can buy less.  Who’d have thought?

To be sure, all of these examples may well use green labeling.  But they are also doing green in a big way by striving for a smaller operational and product footprint.

Whether for an MBA program or a brand, green labels may feel like a step toward sustainability by those who think them up.  However, settling for the label alone may delay the more intentional and committed integration of true sustainability.  Don’t give prospective students or customers any reason to doubt you.  Instead, serve your customers’ rising green expectations, and take action that goes well beyond that pretty green label.
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