Green Leadership

In a recent Marketing:Green article, Stuart Hickox voiced his concern that the general public may be suffering from some degree of green fatigue. He rhetorically wonders what disaster we need to collectively witness in order to wake up to the benefits of committing to a greener lifestyle:

"With new deepwater drilling about to resume in the Gulf of Mexico just one year after the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, it would seem that the scale of the calamity would have to be truly (unfathomably?) unprecedented."

I'm optimistic that we don't have to wait for the "big one" before realizing that we should be a striving for a more sustainable society. What I am fearful of, however, is leadership, or a complete lack thereof. What really scares me is that our so-called marketers and leaders would translate perceived ebb in green marketing interest to signals of "abandon ship."

I stress "perceived" ebb in interest, because consumers are as enamored as ever with good, honest companies that offer quality products and services with a green edge. If anything has changed, there is just less tolerance with companies like BP.

Here are some important tips for those who care enough to take a leadership role in encouraging greater adoption of genuine green offerings.

1. Don't get distracted.
There are many competing interests and an equal amount of gamesmanship in the field of green marketing. Facts get thrown around like rice at a wedding, and everyone gets distracted. My main piece of advice here is to admit that you don't know the answers to some complex debates, then move on. This way, you can get to the substantial conversation without spinning wheels over whether wind is better than coal; global warming is a conspiratorial hoax; or SUVs are greener than dogs.

2. Don't choose sides.
Your credibility will be seriously marred if you choose sides too readily. At the end of the day, as long as we're alive (and even for a while afterwards), we're all consumers. Finger pointing will eventually come back to bite you. Assume that we all essentially want the same things when it comes to the earth: to use as much of a finite resource as possible, while avoiding as many negative consequences as possible.

3. Be civilized.
Conversations about conservation are far from the last place where vitriol and conflict emerge. As a species, we are hard-wired to fight. Social media amplifies this all- too-human tendency. In 1990, lawyer/author Mike Godwin invented Godwin's Law to describe this fact of life:

"As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1."

Engaging should not be about name-calling and toppling people's moral or professional credibility. This is where social media is particularly dangerous. Message boards are a place of conflict, and it takes great skill to maintain reasonable decorum. Think Hugh Grant, not Hulk Hogan (did I just date myself?).

4. Keep an open mind.
Let's face it: we're not always right. Most of the issues that we face today are so complex that most of us can't possibly be experts. Once in a while, we will almost refuse to believe a piece of validated research simply because it doesn't fit within our own paradigm. How can we expect others to change if we ourselves are closed to new ideas?

5. Invent.
It may well be true that the pioneers take the arrows, and the settlers take the land. Despite this cliché, however, there is much opportunity for visionary leadership. Breathe, sit back for a few minutes, shut your eyes, doodle, collaborate, and share.

Ultimately, we will never be able to go against the tide of the market. With the right leadership, however, we can nudge it in the right direction.

1 comment about "Green Leadership ".
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  1. Ruth Barrett from, May 18, 2011 at 2:12 p.m.

    Excellent advice. I only want to add to it and bring up three points: (1) research, (2) myopia and (3) disconnected leadership.

    Whether its from the Cone report on cause marketing or GoodHouskeeping, research supports statements like this:

    "Key findings show that concern about the environment is top of mind and influences daily behaviors and decision-making."

    If that's not enough there's this headline/article in today's Financial Times, "Environment: long-term impact of green issues played down:Awareness of environmental issues is growing among consumers, who now understand more clearly the role that business plays in producing emissions or harming the environment."

    And it really isn't about green issues. Yes, it is popular among marketers to frame sustainability around green, seeing people only through the consumer lens, that's been our job after all, but to do so is to miss a large number of leaders from all walks of life who are addressing their ideas, causes and cures to citizens and to communities, rather than consumers and segments. This shift in perception is really one of relationship and herein lies a key to understanding what social networking and social media is about and why it ties to thought leadership, not product marketing to people, not things.

    A recent McKinsey Quarterly article of relevance here is "The Power of Storytelling: What nonprofits can teach the private sector about Social Media as is an interview with Josh Bernoff of Forrester on "How to be a Social Media Change Agent" found on special collection, Passion, Storytelling and the Web at

    We have over 800 sustainability leaders on our site,, the ".tv" denoting all video. This is a curated collection and grows each day as we aggregate content from across the Web. We will easily triple this number as we grow and add staff, but for now the point about these 800 sustainability leaders is they don't know one another. They are disconnected from one another because sustainability crosses all disciplines, all professions, all issues affecting our citizens. This too will be addressed as we grow, and sustainability business conferences expand, but for now you can find leaders, experts, consultants, advocates, and activists all in one place, hundreds of voices of sustainability.

    Listen, as Stuart suggests, with an open mind and take off the glasses, you don't need them. I suggest starting with browsing the EarthSayers special collection on Culture and Consciousness (, the sustainability category that includes consumerism and conservation!

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