Kermit Was Right

Here’s an idea: Let’s all wear green clothes. Every day. Let’s drive green cars. And live in green houses. I mean green like Kermit. Ridiculous, right? It’s easy to imagine the response in the boardroom at the receiving end of this pitch.

Is it any wonder why a marketing appeal for behavior change to more sustainable choices in things like clothes, cars and household products is falling flat? By asking people to choose “green,” we are limiting our reach and isolating environmentalism from other social issues. We may not require people to literally put it on, but we’re asking them to adopt it. And that’s just as tough. 

Lots of smart people have tried to work around this. Adam Werbach of Saatchi and Saatchi, one of the first to suggest that “green is dead,” proposed that environmentalism should be rebranded “blue.” It was a novel idea. But run the scenario above with the new color and you get the same outcome. Plus, say “I am blue” or “I blue the office” out loud and you’ll see why this won’t work.  

As “Great Transition” thinker Paul Raskin articulates, “For social change (to occur) it takes a popular movement to convert grievance and longing into practical action of sufficient effectiveness and tenacity to overcome the inertia of culture and the resistance of entrenched interests.” 

Recently, a researcher at Vermont Law, Marianne Tyrrell, reflected on this and wrote, “For this movement to occur, three components are necessary: 1) engaged dialogues; 2) a shared vision that arises from these dialogues; and 3) new forms of leadership to catalyze, support and maintain this transformation.”

Further, “as people increasingly view themselves as having shared goals and aspirations, both human solidarity and the potential for cultural transformation increase.”

Clearly, “green” is not a sustainable platform for this shared vision. Just ask anyone in a car dealership weighing the ROI of buying a hybrid while cheaper “fuel efficient” options are right there. Or try to sell air sealing and insulation upgrades to a family on social assistance or welfare. We “green marketers” are failing because we are trying to promote products and services with language that’s associated with a marginalized movement, and in ways that don’t connect with what people really care about –- the stuff that keeps them awake at night. 

Recently, the term “sustainability” has been deployed in an attempt to strengthen and broaden the green fabric by weaving in social and economic justice and things like meeting the aspirations of first nations peoples. But, really, ask three smart people at a conference or think-tank gathering to define sustainability, and you’ll get three different answers. And don’t bother asking the people beyond those gilded walls.

To foster engaged dialogue, a shared vision, and new leadership, “green marketing” has to change. Instead of promoting specific, siloed choices, or a lifestyle that is precariously perched on a color, perhaps we should be marketing the evolution of common capacity-building tools that local groups of all types could use to stimulate and share these “dialogues.” 

By using our collective marketing might to facilitate sharing, solidarity and dialogue among very different groups, we could enable existing advocates and local NGOs to be more effective at what they do (in environment, elder care, health, education, etc.) and thereby enable them to work better together. 

Maybe then, and only then, the shape and color of the new transformational movement will arise organically. And it will be something that’s easy to be.

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5 comments about "Kermit Was Right ".
  1. phyllis ershowsky from PKE Marketing & PR Solutions , April 4, 2012 at 10:27 a.m.
    Your article is so pertinent and timely as I delve into new projects for one of my clients who was an early pioneer in the "green" building and engineering industry. I too have been trying to develop new language to engage others, and appreciate that I am not alone - looking forward to more on this topic as well as how I might get more involved in the process. Thank you!
  2. David Yeend from 22squared , April 4, 2012 at 10:41 a.m.
    I find the "triple bottom line" is a useful way to frame the sustainability conversation. (Profits, People, Planet.) Because it opens the decision-making metric up to include a) making money (the one dimension C-suiters put first), b) taking care of employees and customers (which we all know fuels the Profit metric), and adds c) Green to the conversation they're already having. Viewing these together forces some consideration of the trade-offs any biz decision entails.
  3. Rich Bruer from R.Bruer Company , April 4, 2012 at 4:52 p.m.
    I agree "green marketing has to change." But the fact that we must continue to distinguish "green marketing" as a specialty of marketing ought to be a *red* flag. The onus for behavior change to more sustainable consumption can't fall on green marketers alone. We need all marketers of all colors on board to move customers in the direction of more responsible (and less!) consumption. I'd rather see green marketers put themselves out of business by signing up all marketers to the cause of transforming what and how much we consume.
  4. Adam Werbach from Saatchi & Saatchi S , April 4, 2012 at 8:01 p.m.
    Kudos to Stuart Hickox for continuing to challenge the narrow definition of green. The point that's important to get across is that green is not bad, it's just not enough to solve the suite of issues that people are concerned about now. The reason more and more of us are using the framework of "blue" is that it by necessity suggests that what we're looking at is something larger than green. The world is mostly blue after all. The Economist in their publication "The World in 2012" declared on page 134 that "blue is becoming the new green," saying that, "Blue is a global colour, a perception in part from its association with the sea. It is also a colour of co-operation: the United Nations, Facebook and Twitter use blue." From a practical sense, it doesn't really matter what color we use. What's critical is that we see this movement towards conscious consumer behavior as taking in all four streams of sustainability -- social, economic, environmental and cultural, not just the environment. To Stuart's point, the collaboration between all of these different issue sets is what we're after.
  5. Bruce Gerth from Effect Partners , April 5, 2012 at 6 p.m.
    It is really not about any color or tactical execution in marketing. It is establishing an authentic Corporate Social Responsibility platform, then leveraging it as a value proposition of your brand. Creating a shared value system that resonates between brand, employee, customer and society to provide brand differentiation and drive sustainable ROI streams. Michael Porter has some excellent writing on the strategies of shared value streams and is a recommended read.