As standards become more well-defined and consumers demand more transparency, companies are increasingly in need of the skills to, first of all, begin that difficult process toward the ever-evolving “sustainable” business. But for those already on that path, an understanding of how to report and communicate their successes and hurdles is becoming essential as well. That’s where Colleen Kramer of Springleaf Strategies, a Raleigh-based marketing and sustainability consulting firm, comes in.
Kramer hopes that someday sustainability won’t simply be an “add on” component, but rather an integral part of the way business is done, which is incorporated into every aspect of a company’s design. She expressed this emerging business must-do during last week’s GreenNC conference in workshops entitled Building the Case for Sustainability and Authenticity in Sustainability & Marketing. Here’s what Kramer outlines as the "Laws of Green Marketing:"
Authenticity vs. flash: Don’t say you are doing something if you don’t actually have any plans of doing it. This includes avoiding “greenwashing” or making false or misleading claims to make your product or organization appear more sustainable than it really is. Steer clear of fluff words or visuals lacking in any substantial meaning such as “all natural,” “eco-friendly,” "environmentally sound,” etc.
Transparency: People are grateful for, and will reward honesty. It isn’t necessary to paint a bogus picture of roses and blue skies when the reality is that you are struggling on the road to sustainability. Be real about what challenges you are facing in taking on your company’s environmental, financial and social responsibility goals. Kramer points to Patagonia’s The Footprint Chronicles as a prime example of a company being genuinely transparent, where consumers can literally track a product they buy with a map that shows where the product came from. Patagonia then explains what they consider the good and the bad of that particular product’s environmental impact.
Consistency and commitment: Be dependable in sticking to the sustainability initiatives and practices you have made public whether internally or externally. Dedication to these practices will illustrate to consumers, the public and key stakeholders that they can rely on you as a company, organization or individual.
Targeted communication: Marketing is all about having a clear picture of who your audience is so that you have a focused strategy. On the consumer side, a business must determine whether their audience is made up of cultural creatives, millennials, LOHAS (lifestyle of health and sustainability), unconcerned, naturalites, drifters, or conventionals, among other relevant criteria. Kramer reminds businesses to ask the question, “What motivates your buyer?” Is it energy and cost savings, their family’s health, social worries, environmental issues, or do they want to appear to be a part of or ahead of a current trend?
Execution is king: This one is a no brainer – follow through! Consumers, donors, strategic partners, investors, staff, members and other stakeholders will not continue to support, patronize, work for or follow you if they can’t trust that you will do what you say you are going to do, especially when it comes to reaching stated sustainability benchmarks.
Measure success and continual improvement: There are multiple avenues by which a business can use metrics to track the strides being made toward sustainability as well as illuminate the obstacles that still lie ahead. As the field of “green” business grows, an organization now has many third party certifications and standards at their fingertips including GRI, ISO, LEED, Green Plus, etc. A company or organization also can't simply start recycling or take on one initiative and "poof!" they are now a sustainable business with no more work to do. Kramer stresses to keep constantly pushing the sustainability envelope.
Lesley Lammers is a freelance sustainability consultant and journalist, focused on the intersection between the environment, food, social impact, human rights, health and entrepreneurship.