West Coast Green: Greenwashing and the Business of Branding

sustainable%20life%20media.jpgAt a talk from 1:30 to 3:00 at the San Jose Convention Center, attendees gathered to tap into the power of sustainable branding.
It is both good news and bad news for green building businesses that more people are entering the marketplace. The growth of the sustainable or green building industry leaves many questions for business owners, namely, “How can we differentiate ourselves from one another?” and “How can we distinguish ourselves from the hype and greenwashing?”
Koann Skrzyniarz of Sustainable Life Media has been working towards helping companies to become sustainable since 2004. She and her her colleagues Celia Canfield of Ecovertex and co-chair of Sustainable Brands International Pam Van Orden, spoke to a varied audience to make the distinctions of how good branding works.
Sustainable branding means taking innovation to a whole new level beyond simply telling stories from the ground level up.

“Ultimately, we have to be systems thinkers,” KoAnn said, suggesting that to create a good story for sustainable brands, companies must think in terms of the big picture.
“It all comes down to the fundamentals of branding,” Pam Van Orden added. “You have have to know your customer and how your offering is relevant to him or her–and align your company’s promise with practice.” She says greenwashing is only one point of a continuum where companies “paint themselves green” in one area without looking at the big picture and it looks like corporate companies, like WalMart, are making moves to change their image.
WalMart particularly has done this from the ground up to make sustainability personal to employees.
Celia Canfield, who moderated the panel, also agrees with Pam that there is a parallel with the tech age, such as when Apple targeted geeks in the company’s early days.
“I saw similar trends happening at a solar conference last year,” Pam said. “All the companies had a sun in their logo or “sol” in their name” and she suggests that any company think much more beyond the features of their products and move towards innovative thinking.
Celia Canfield, in a seperate interview, urges young people and entrepreneurs of all ages to think about how they can “fix” what past generations have made a mess, especially in consideration to the world’s resources, but she says, through the telling of stories and creating brand advocates, we can make a change even in midst of a nationwide financial crash.

“Everything that you learned in school is historical data which sets you up to set up innovation…Right now we have a market opportunity to innovate ourselves.”

For the marketers, business strategists and entrepreneurs out there, what is your approach?
(Of course, if you’re new to sustainable brand speak, TriplePundit readers can attend Sustainable Brands International in Miami, Fla. at the end of this year December 9 to 11 for a 25% discount. Enter in TRPT128 by October 27.)

Clara lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and considers herself an international citizen. She has an MBA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and currently works in San Francisco as a marketing analyst. You can find her tweeting, blogging or simply continue an existing 3P conversation by commenting on a post.

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