It isn’t easy being green

March 28, 2011 at 6:21 pm 2 comments

Ann Camden, Senior VP of Gibbs and Soell

It’s never been easy being green.

From eco-shaped water bottles to those noisy biodegradable SunChips bags, more businesses are making sustainability a priority as consumers become increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment. That consumer knowledge then puts pressure on businesses to incorporate sustainability while remaining profitable and to integrate these efforts into all aspects of the business to avoid accusations of hypocrisy.

As a senior vice president at Gibbs and Soell, a public relations agency specializing in agribusiness, advanced manufacturing, home building and other industries, I have experienced this debate first-hand. In nearly every industry, these gray areas exist, which means that as a communicator, you can’t just disseminate information; you must be prepared to explain it.

Here are a few tips to help you leap into the “wild green yonder” of greentech and sustainability communications.

Don’t Be Shy

Taking a stance of silence and moderation is easy, but it deprives consumers of valuable information and devalues the importance of improving the environmental footprint of products. And as more and more businesses start incorporating sustainability into their strategies, you want to avoid sins of omission or an appearance of jumping on the bandwagon.

Gibbs & Soell recently partnered with Harris Interactive to conduct a Sense and Sustainability study, used to gauge perspectives on corporate sustainability among consumers and executives. We found that only 29 percent of Fortune 1000 executives and 16 percent of consumers believe that a majority of corporations are actually committed to “going green”. With many companies taking major steps towards sustainability, this survey shows an increased need for communications about these efforts. Avoid using fluff words like “green” or “clean” (these are the eco version of “new and improved”) and instead give concrete examples of what your company is doing and plans to do. No one can become fully environmentally-friendly over night, so be honest about the process and where you have room to improve.

Don’t Mix Messages

One of the great risks when talking about sustainability initiatives is the accusation of greenwashing, a term that refers to messages that mislead consumers into thinking a product or business is more eco-friendly than it actually is. Today’s sustainability-savvy consumer is highly attuned to empty claims. Businesses that try to have their cake and eat it too will quickly find their credibility compromised.

Environmental commitment should permeate your organization, including internal day-to-day efforts. At Gibbs & Soell, we require all employees to change their default printer settings to double-sided printing. It’s a small first step, but it is one way of living the messages we’re communicating.

Tell A Story

Not so fast with the PowerPoint slides. When it comes to green communications, try telling a story instead. Whether you are a CEO trying to engage employees with your business’s new eco-friendly policies or a PR professional who needs to convince the C-suite that this is more than environmental fluff, stories have the power to compel and emotionally connect people to issues.

Don’t Expect It To Be Easy

Sustainability efforts require a commitment that goes beyond using a travel mug instead of Styrofoam cup for your coffee each morning – and the commitment often requires sacrifice. For example, we recently heard about a company who was seriously considering switching to sustainably-produced paper as part of their organization’s attempt to increase their green practices. The only problem? The company’s designers didn’t like how the Forest Stewardship Council certification watermark looked, so they wouldn’t source the green paper! An unwillingness to commit even when it requires a little bit of discomfort or small changes undermines your credibility and makes consumers skeptical of your motives, while willingness to compromise small things for the greater vision demonstrates that you are serious and genuine.

Gibbs & Soell recently launched a greentech and sustainability practice within our agency. It has been a learning process for us, our clients and business partners – and as we strive to offer thought leadership in this area, we’re looking at ways we can incorporate sustainable practices into our own business. I would love to hear more about how you’ve made sustainability a priority in your business and communications!


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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. ahellweg  |  April 5, 2011 at 4:25 am

    Such great information! I think it’s so important for companies to “go green” and I love that you encourage clients to substantiate claims of being eco-friendly in innovative ways. It proves that being environmentally conscious isn’t just a trend- but an evolving way of doing business- and here to stay.

  • 2. Julia Weiss  |  April 5, 2011 at 2:54 pm

    I think that this post brings up a good point: be honest about your sustainable practices! It’s so important for consumers to see that these companies and corporations have an environmental conscious that said companies are falsifying their practices, thus decreasing their credibility. I was also not surprised to hear the statistic that “only 29 percent of Fortune 1000 executives and 16 percent of consumers believe that a majority of corporations are actually committed to “going green”. This should trigger a movement to implement eco-friendly policies. Ann mentioned that her company is making small changes. For example, employees are changing the settings on their printers to print double-sided so as to save on paper. It’s these little things, these small steps that are the easiest to incorporate into your companies and they go a long way.


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