They've Said It Before And I'll Say It Again: The Key Is Transparency

Newsweek recently released its Green Rankings 2012 list, which highlights America’s greenest companies. Environmental impact has become one of the biggest selling points for brands when striving to gain consumer attention. However, something I’ve noticed over the years is that the companies who are making green efforts can be placed into two different categories: those that are naturally perceived as green (therefore having to put very little energy into pushing their green message due to the nature of the product) and those that exercise green practices, yet whose efforts go relatively unnoticed if they are not purposely advertised.  

Industries that fall under the first category would include hybrid cars, specialty-food supermarkets and alternative-fuel companies. These companies will appear green regardless of whether they really are or not. Surprisingly, none of the top 15 companies listed in Newsweek’s article would be grouped in this category. Instead, the top three rated companies were McGraw-Hill, Hartford Financial Services and Cognizant, companies not often associated with “green” best-practices. As a matter of fact, several of the companies listed came from the IT sector, an industry oft considered to be one of the least energy efficient. Other companies listed included office supply retailers, financial institutions and communications companies (all of whom would fall under the second “unnoticed” green effort category). 

With this somewhat curious revelation, one question begs to be asked: who has the advantage when it comes to public persona – companies that produce “green” products or companies that actually weave the act of “going green” into their business culture? According to Newsweek, the answer is the latter. 

This isn’t to say that brands that naturally appear green don’t actually practice what they preach. But maybe it means that “green washing,” or constantly inundating your audience with a green message, doesn’t evoke the same emotional stimuli it once did.What the Newsweek ranking tells us is that transparency is the proper path to follow. 

Earlier this year, a Nielsen survey found that 55% of consumers consider themselves “conscious consumers.” Yet, the majority of those conscious consumers are younger Generation X-ers and Millennials, individuals less likely to have the extra dollars required for greener purchases. So what is there left to fall back on for this environmentally responsible generation? How about supporting a brand that practices green initiatives if they can’t afford doing it themselves? 

Consider this: Xbox, a product of Microsoft (which made Newsweek’s list), just passed the 70-million-consoles-sold mark last month, several million ahead of PlayStation 3, its closest competitor. A lesser-known fact about Microsoft is that the technology giant charges its individual divisions a “carbon fee” should they operate outside the green guidelines set by the company. Each is “responsible for tracking, minimizing, and offsetting the environmental costs associated with electrical use and air travel.” While this doesn’t prove that consumers are flocking to Xbox strictly due to Microsoft’s green practices, the transparency is an example of a product popular among a more youthful demographic aligning its values with its target’s -- all without having to gloat about it in advertisements. 

Scientists tell us that the Earth is getting warmer, and that we are slowly killing the planet in a multitude of different ways. If brands want to find some kind of positive in this phenomenon, then they have to get off their environmentally friendly high horses and start making what they are doing behind closed doors more clear (if they are doing anything at all). Today’s consumer is way past the point of simply believing what he or she is told. It’s time to answer the bell. In the long run, it appears to be more valuable for a brand’s image.

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