Jacquie Ottman's
Green Marketing Blog

Sustainable Branding in the 21st Century

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Just got back from the Sustainable Brands 08 Conference, in Monterey, California. Over 550 people gathered to hear about the latest trends, see the leaders in sustainability speak, and learn about new tools to conduct their business in a better way.

I had the honor of keynoting the conference. Several of the points I made were iterated by many of the speakers and by participants via their insightful questions from the floor. So there's a lot of consensus out there about what are the issues that we need to be dealing with as a society, the challenges we have in creating sustainable brands, and the opportunities forward-thinking businesses will have in the years to come.

Following are the key points I made. A copy of the entire speech is linked to this post.

Key Points

• Things are changing fast in the world of sustainability:

Concern about global climate change remains high, but concern about water issues is fast becoming the #2 issue

Record gas prices is causing the car market to continue to shift toward more fuel efficient cars. Toyota's Prius enjoyed spectacular sales of +54% in the past year, while GM continues to lay off employees.

• Seeing green in green, ad and PR agencies are ramping up to meet the needs of new clients in the fields of clean tech, natural personal care, and green building. They are starting new divisions, and issuing research polls almost daily. But not all clients are well served!

Ads contain terms like renewable and sustainable that consumers don't understand.

The carbon offsets industry is running rampant, now valued at $54 million, but under first for lack of accountability.

• In response, more green marketing campaigns than not are being called "greenwash". Indeed, the green marketing industry is being likened to the Wild West. The FTC has moved up its review of the Green Guides by a full year.

• And consumers are starting to suffer from what the press is calling "green fatigue."

Following are three strategies that businesses can use now to make sure that their green marketing stays credible and impactful:

1) Focus on the primary benefits. Your product may have been inspired by green thinking, but it's the health benefits, the cost savings, or the status that will sell it to the mass consumer.

2) Be transparent. Check out Timberland's "nutritional label", detailing energy use, material efficiency and global warming contribution on every shoebox.

3) Start from the inside out. Ensure the credibility of your corporate messages by making sure your house is in order. HSBC Bank's "No Small Change Campaign" (which I had the pleasure of working on) provided consumers with small steps that they could do to reduce their carbon footprint. These steps mimicked the ones that HSBC Bank used to achieve leadership in their industry on this issue.

Three strategies for the future:

1) Promote responsible consumption. It's not enough to sell greener products, credible green marketing must educate consumers on how to use those products responsibly.

2) Become an environmental brand steward. Conduct an life cycle assessment on your product to uncover areas that need to be addressed from a sustainability standpoint. II

3) Eco Innovate. Think beyond incremental improvements. Develop new products, new technologies and new materials that will help address the challenges in the decades ahead.

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