The business world is awash in green. Companies big and small, private and public, that sell products to all markets and audiences are considering how to make their brands, companies and marketing messages appeal to a public increasingly interested in protecting our environment and reducing its collective carbon footprint.
Consumer awareness about sustainability is at an all-time high, based on research by, well, almost everybody. A cadre of sources and personalities, including Al Gore, can be credited for that. But despite an incredibly high awareness level about the problem, few consumers know how to successfully do something about it.
Sure, we're recycling more. And weekly studies tell us that consumers are more likely to buy "green" products and are willing to pay more for them. But consumers and businesses alike still struggle with the idea of both making their day-to-day practices more sustainable, and doing so in a profitable or money-saving way.
Corporate America, in its quest to attract more customers and increase market share, has jumped on the green bandwagon in a big way. Logos have been changed to all-green hues. Green themes have been woven into television storylines. Chief sustainability officer positions have been created, and new corner offices filled.
But despite good intentions, relatively little sustainability work has actually been done. Many highly visible green initiatives are in fact quite time and cost intensive -- such as changing windows, replacing vehicle fleets and making wholesale changes to packaging and product manufacturing practices.
But regardless of the challenges with early attempts to go green, significant market share, cost savings and brand value await companies and brands that increasingly get it right.
The benefits (and pitfalls) of a green brand
For brand marketers, the benefits of "being green" are high on many fronts, inside and outside of the company.
Aligning your green brand's positioning with current and prospective customers can have significant benefits, but it also comes with a slippery slope. If your brand naturally lends itself to a strong green message, and/or you can back up your green message with tangible, measurable results and impact to the environment, you can successfully tap into the social consciousness and demand for green among your customers -- consumer or corporate.
Soap marketers, for example, can tout environmentally friendly ingredients and byproducts. Done right, these messages aren't just trendy positioning statements, but can be core differentiators that tie directly to your brand values.
But this opportunity has a downside as well, particularly for marketers who attempt to leverage green and sustainable messages without credible backup for such messages.
Already, consumer backlash on products and marketers that they think are merely "greenwashing" their stories has been harsh. And consumer and corporate buyers are becoming skeptical of company claims of being green, thereby increasing the stakes for companies to validate, back-up and truly live their pledge to be a more sustainable brand.
Being green can make more green
Challenges aside, being green can have a significant, tangible and immediate impact on your bottom line. This is about more than just positioning and market share; it's about leveraging an authentically green marketing play -- externally and inside your company -- for increased sales, greater customer loyalty and also significant cost reductions for your company's operations.
With the right strategies, this impact can begin immediately and can be a win for several departments across the organization.
Take power management, for example. Did you know that among your office's IT devices, your PC is the single-largest contributor to carbon emissions? The PCs and monitors running across your company account for 40 percent of your company's IT carbon emissions – almost twice that of the next-largest contributor (data centers).
What's worse, nearly two-thirds of the energy our PCs use every day is wasted. Our PCs are working at full speed and full energy when we're not using them, literally most of the time, costing significant wasted dollars and contributing enormously to our carbon footprint. (The average PC, for example, is responsible for 1,000 pounds of CO2 emissions every year.)
Now, let's imagine that your company takes advantage of PC power management software available on the market today -- tools that can reduce your PC energy needs by up to 60 percent, while cutting the associated carbon footprint by as much as 40 percent. That's a solid, measurable and meaningful green strategy.
First of all, that's real money that goes right back to the bottom line. Your CFO is going to be a very happy person.
You can also leverage this green initiative directly in your marketing. It's an easy way to claim an immediate, measurable win on the sustainability front. And if you're a software or computer services company, it's a great way to share the specifics of your PC power management strategy with your customers and prospects, encouraging them to join your lead in cutting energy and carbon footprint impact.
But that's not all.
- Your PR team will be able to discuss ongoing updates of the impact of your power management strategy, measuring the cumulative and ongoing impact on saved energy and carbon footprint reduction. They can even translate energy savings into trees saved, barrels of oil not used, cars off the road, etc.
- Your HR team will be able to use this news in two ways -- both to improve employee retention and morale, and to help with recruiting. Employees want to know their company is doing something real to positively impact the environment, and potential employees increasingly are caring about corporate sustainability practices in determining where they want to work
- Your IT team will appreciate a way to very directly and tangibly participate in the company's overall sustainability efforts, especially with something that could significantly decrease their own operating budget.
- Your corporate sustainability team will also love PC power management, as it's a fast, easy and immediate strategy that gives them a quick win among myriad opportunities and projects in front of them
These department-specific benefits represent a solid mix of internal and external marketing benefits, but together they demonstrate just how broadly the right green initiatives can be leveraged to positively impact your brand.
Your green top 10 list for 2008
So you're ready to get started. Here are 10 more things you can start doing right away, all in 2008, to create a comprehensive, compelling and results-driven green strategy for your business and brand.
Learn more, get involved, live the brand!
These pointers, of course, are just the tip of the iceberg. Green opportunities are proliferating and the opportunities for smart brands to get involved at a tangible level and make a significant impact -- for their companies, their bottom lines, their market share and their employees -- is real and very dynamic.
Below are several links to start investigating what other companies are doing, and to spark your own creative juices.
- Microsoft has published a strong sustainability white paper detailing its commitment to sustainable business practices. It's a good read, especially for new ideas that might make sense for your company and brand.
- Verdiem is one of the leaders in helping large brands and enterprise companies significantly reduce their PC energy usage, costs and carbon footprint. Learn more about them here. You can also learn more about broader opportunities on Green IT.
- Check out several well-written green marketing blogs, including Sustainable Marketing, Marketing Green and Green Wombat.
- The Climate Savers Computing Initiative is another simple, fast step to help you and your company do its part.
Matt Heinz is senior director of marketing for Verdiem and the author of Matt on Marketing. Matt also recently completed work on two books, Are You Selling Pants, or Selling A Dream? and Move The Mouse & Make Millions. Read full bio.