It’s Not Easy Being Green

by Mike Smith. 0 Comments

“Green” is a much maligned marketing term!

Starting a blog post quoting Kermit the Frog’s lament may not be the most journalistic way to talk about being green. In the environmental field, we have now switched to engaging the term “sustainability”. Green somehow earned the tough reputation of being for granola people. I submit there is a strong business case to be made for staying green with the ROI of environmental stewardship.

How can we bring green corporate social responsibility (CSR) and marketing programs back in good favor?

Here are some great business reasons as to why we must believe in being green:

According to Jacquelyn Ottman in the book “The New Rules of Green Marketing,” “Starbucks is a company that has been able to turn sustainability and social initiatives into quantifiable returns on investment; whether they are in the form of growth and profits, brand loyalty, reputation, or employee retention and attraction.” Did you know Starbuck’s has 16,000 stores now and 52% of the coffeehouse sales in the U.S.?

Corporate efforts to invest in recycling and environmental excellence have led to real cost savings and employee satisfaction.

Fund managers and stock brokers know that large investors including pension funds are looking at green(er) portfolios for their investments.

John Mackay of Whole Foods writes about “Conscious Capitalism” and has founded an entire movement on this and more principle-based corporate decision-making. And the company is making money providing organic products for a slight premium. These offerings go to the fact that consumers will pay more if they believe the long-term effect on the environment reduces carbon footprint. It makes us feel more connected to something larger, I think.

Our clients include the Mobility Lab ( and its work with Arlington County, Virginia to create new commuter transportation options.  Getting people out of cars and into multi-modal transit options – including Capital Bikeshare which is gaining in popularity – shows how we can save as consumers by riding bikes or walking.

Another company with which we work is the Delaware North Companies Parks and Resorts management. The innovative GreenPath program which follows National Park Guidelines that up to 90% of food service be organic or locally grown, is another great example. The GreenPath stewardship includes recycling, smart water use policies, and using local farms to cut down on transportation into mountain resorts like the Shenandoahs.

The most significant relationship we have is with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It was founded by an Act of Congress and works with public-private partnerships to make grants at the local level, where environmental action counts. A great deal of the grant-making goes to technical support and education. Sort of a “teach a man to fish” philosophy. While EPA and other government entities partner with NFWF, it’s very interesting to see major players like Wal-Mart, Altria, FedEx, International Paper and others sponsor programs at the grassroots level.

Companies are looking for ROI and for real progress by channeling funding where it has the greatest impact. So folks like The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, or Chesapeake Bay local programs managers, provide the troops whereas government and companies do the funding.

“Greenwashing” has become defined as window dressing or claiming to have environmental management and long-range stewardship programs when they are not legit. Because of these labels and perhaps early halting attempts at trying to do the right thing, “green” has become anathema to marketing and public affairs execs.

In fact, I just launched a new marketing and PR practice devoted to the clients named here: “GreenSmith PR.” I did market research with a leading ad agency in Northern Virginia and they told me it could be a polarizing phrase. I asked some colleagues who wondered if I were having a midlife crisis. Trying to harken back to my own hippie days? Au contraire. It’s been a win-win for me to get involved in stewardship and sustainability.

I am honored to be constructing the first master’s degree course on Environmental PR and Green Marketing for West Virginia University’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. I am asking the IMC program director to “keep it green” and allow students to hear the business cases. Our lead text is by Bruce Harrison called Corporate Greening.

I say, “go ahead, flaunt your green side.”


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