Is It Enough To Be Green? What About Being Good?

I've got a big problem with green marketing. It seems like "green" is the buzzword of today much like "Made in the USA" was the mantra after the tragic events of 9/11.

Whatever the social commentary is at the time, companies will figure out how to tailor their message to it -- it's part of what fascinates me about the power of advertising. But while you could easily find out if something was Made in the USA (and companies would be pretty foolish to falsely claim it), that is not the case with being labeled green.

Does anyone ever question what green actually means? And why is it so important to just be green. What about how these companies treat their employees, give to their communities or provide more to the world than just another product or service? You could be buying an all-natural household cleaner in a recycled package but if the company has a team of migrants in Africa working in horrendous conditions in 18-hour shifts, does it really make you feel better about buying that product?

If you do care about the environment and want to make a difference, you want to make the biggest difference you can, and that means supporting "good" companies, not just the ones claiming to be green.

So how can we as marketers not succumb to the pressures of green-washing and lend our support to companies that are truly doing good in the world?

It comes down to evaluating how a company treats its employees, its impact on the community, and whether the company is a good steward of the environment.

We work with a number of B Corporations, third party-certified companies that must pass certain qualifications based on social and environmental standards. To become a certified B Corporation, a company must amend its corporate documents so it has a legal obligation to serve its environment, employees, consumers and community -- not just maximize shareholder returns.

That is a huge change in the way businesses operate. When the end game takes into account people and the environment over pure profit taking, decisions can be made that impact the greater good.

In our work with B Lab, the 501c3 non-profit organization behind the B Corporation concept, we've seen the community grow to over 350 companies across 55 industries representing over $1.2 billion in revenues. This is not some hippie, crunchy granola group of activist companies getting together to talk to themselves.

Working with B Corporations has benefited Ammirati in a number of ways. It has expanded our knowledge of the green movement to a point where we can confidently incorporate sustainability efforts into our packaging designs. It's also given us access to a comprehensive network of green vendors and sustainable business partners that we can leverage for our projects.

Our account team can rightfully question clients that come to us wanting to be marketed as green but not having the product experience to back it up -- because you must be transparent in this space.

And, finally, working with B Corporations has improved our own social and environmental consciousness as a business. We are moving towards a paperless office, supporting telecommuting and work from home days, encouraging employees to bike to work, and enlisting environmentally preferred products for our office.

Working with companies that are socially responsible -- and have the proof to back it up -- excites us. The more we find out about their efforts, the more inspired we are to promote them and their cause.

6 comments about "Is It Enough To Be Green? What About Being Good?".
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  1. Sam Van eman from CCO, June 9, 2010 at 12:17 p.m.

    Matthew, I appreciate the balanced approach here. As someone who tries to help Christian college students to work in a way that aligns with their faith, this is right on.

    I see another kind of unbalance with them: too often they practice evangelism, or invite coworkers to church, or try to add religious symbols to projects, but then work for an employer who "has a team of migrants in Africa working in horrendous conditions in 18-hour shifts."

    Fortunately, this integration of faith - or more broadly, values - and work is making progress. Thanks for helping all of us to think more carefully/wholistically about marketing (and consuming).

  2. Sam Van eman from CCO, June 9, 2010 at 12:19 p.m.

    Correction: "imbalance"

  3. Nic Denyer from the aranda group, June 9, 2010 at 4:38 p.m.

    Great insight on the issues of 'being green' but unfortunately your article could have been published twenty years ago.
    We were addressing these issues back when people actually cared about the environment and still did not have great success in marketing environmental stewardship...
    I command your efforts with B Corp, but in reality we need a paradigm shift in the buying habits of Americans for companies to actually make sustainability part of their marketing and advertising message..
    Though I shouldn't just highlight the gloom and doom, there are positive role models out there for success in green marketing and the more we hammer at it the more success we will see..

  4. E.B. Moss from Moss Appeal, June 9, 2010 at 4:57 p.m.

    As Nic wrote, this has been the challenge for a long time. The good news/bad news is that we have more reason than ever - even moreso than since an Inconvenient Truth helped increase the current wave of awareness -- to be diligent and greenER, as companies and as individuals. The oil spill is "the social commentary of the time, [and] companies will figure out how to tailor their message to it" as you mention.

    However, I think the answer CONTINUES to be mainstream education. We have to keep pressing forward as marketers to help sustainable companies -- and even mainstreamers who are "doing good"-- communicate better and educate all their stakeholders via their messaging.

    FYI - in full "transparency," one of my current projects is to help PR Newswire promote its free virtual conference on communicating corporate social responsibility. But I think this will offer a lot of good info from companies who are working to do just that. So I suggest checking out .

    It can't hurt, and may help.

  5. Lynn Colwell from The Green Year, LLC, June 10, 2010 at 1:20 p.m.

    Green to me and I think more and more people, means much more than how a product is made. It includes where it's made, by whom, how they are paid and treated, AND how the consumer uses it and what happens when its "life" is over.

    The heartening thing to me that at least we are having these conversations. Change, unfortunately for the planet, takes time and greenwashing, as ridiculous as it is, at least is getting noticed and challenged so that's all to the good.

  6. Lisa Pozin from Giving Gifts, June 22, 2010 at 1:04 a.m.

    I just started a eco friendly and fair trade business that aims to showcase products that are not only environmentally responsible, but socially responsible as well. is one small step in the right direction and I hope it will catch on. We need to buy the change we want to see in the world!

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