Green Business Programs: Separating the Green from the Greenwashed

This post is part of a blogging series by marketing students at the Presidio Graduate School’s MBA program. You can follow along here.

By Kim Morris

As we emerge from a difficult economic period, management teams are focused on penny-pinching and everyone is cutting corners. As a result, most companies strive to do as little as possible and gain the most reward. As the sustainability movement continues to grow, it becomes more and more difficult to determine if a company is inherently sustainable or if skilled marketing professionals have successfully greenwashed the website and label.  On the streets of San Francisco, and other environmentally conscious cities, companies can use Green Business Certifications as a marketing tool. The certification can show customers that management ensured their office place meets a standard set of sustainability criteria.

Some companies, like Fiji Water for example, have done a great job of casting a high perception of sustainability without actually achieving a truly sustainable business. Is it that the company doesn’t understand what it means to be environmentally conscious or is it covering up mediocre attempts with glossy covers and colorful language? If business websites are polluted with unverifiable claims made by the company itself, how can a conscious consumer determine if their money is well spent?

Sure, 100-page corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports release information about environmental footprints and company operations, but who carries a binder of 100-page reports when making day-to-day choices? Furthermore, many businesses in San Francisco are small family owned businesses (restaurants, consulting firms, hotels, garment cleaners & more) that don’t have the capacity to issue a yearly 100-page glossy document. After all, do you really want to read a CSR report every time you walk into a local café or hardware store? Probably not.

You may be asking how then, can companies successfully market themselves towards sustainability effectively and for very little cost? Moreover, how can consumers make educated purchasing decisions in their community? On a local level, Green Business networks such as the Green Business Program in San Francisco, assist companies that are doing the right thing (greening operations and sustainable purchasing, amongst others) to convey their message. By earning the Green Business logo, companies can avoid greenwashing accusations and quickly market their points of differentiation to the local customer. The program removes the mystery from how to advertise a green office or management model. In fact, the Green Business Program even equips a newly certified business with a tool-kit, a plaque to hang in the window and an online listing on the City’s directory.

How does this help the customer? Unbiased auditors trained in waste management, energy and water conservation (among other categories) do the homework. All the customer has to do is look for the Green Business logo or do a quick online search. The logo ensures that green claims are not a result of a clever marketing spin. In this way, Green Businesses ensure they will benefit from leveraging online media and word-of-mouth marketing. Businesses can communicate with a network of like-minded management teams, stay ahead of the regulations and take advantage of rebate programs for sustainable upgrades that help to pinch those pennies.

The benefit of the program is twofold. For local companies, Green Business recognition can be a vital key to marketing success. In addition, customers have assistance in weeding out the green from the greenwashed. In most cases, official recognition helps address the bottom line and the Green Business logo may actually be worth 1000 words.

Is your favorite café or restaurant certified? How about the office where you spend 40+ hours a week? Has the Green Business logo made an impact on your everyday decisions? If so, tell us how.



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