Green? Sustainable? At Least the Messages Are and Will Be

Reports consistently show that consumers claim to be green.  People claim to consider environmental factors, including sustainability, in their product decisions.  While a vast majority of consumers make the green claim, research shows on a minority really are moved by being green.  However, that percentage is growing and already is large enough to alter how corporations act and communicate about their actions.  In other words, corporations and their messages are becoming greener.  Part of that greening is sustainability.  Sustainability can be defined as the ability to meet today’s needs without compromising the ability of future generation to meet their needs (rough variation of the UN definition).  So being environmentally friendly dovetails with sustainability.  For instance, using fewer resources helps to ensure future generations will have access to those resources.

Communication is at the heart of being green and sustainable.  There is a simple logic:  if consumers care about being green, they must know an organization is green if their green values are to lead them to choose that particular organization.  Said another way, if consumers do not know a company is green they will seek to purchase from that company.  Hence, we have green marketing and public relations.  A recent study suggests the future for green messages is bright.  The study “Green Marketing:  What Works & What Doesn’t—A Marketing Study of Practitioners” found that 82% of firms planned to increase green marketing efforts.  Moreover, four times as many marketers believe green marketing is effective as opposed to those who view it as ineffective and the Internet is the dominant communication channel for green marketing.

While green consumers are still more talk than action, recent trends suggest stakeholders are more interested in learning about green and sustainability information about organizations.  There is an app for the iPhone that provides a visual breakdown of information from four corporate emissions databases.  The app is joint project by SAP and the Carbon Disclosure Project.  Green consumers can also use the Carbon Tracker, a free carbon footprint app, and T-Mobile has a mobile application for getting discounts on green products  Another option is using 3rd whale.  Here is how 3rd whale describes itself:

“3rdWhale’s mission is to utilize emerging mobile technologies to promote a more healthy, just and sustainable world. Although there are more than 100,000 mobile applications in the iTunes app store alone, our company is the first mobile developer to join 1% for the Planet, committing 1% of our annual revenues to environmental causes. In addition, 3rdwhale has pledged 25 cents per download of our signature mobile application to five environmental NGO’s: Natural Capitalism Solutions, Earthshare, Orangutan Outreach, Heart of the World and Wiser Earth.

Find Green (formerly 3rdWhale Mobile)–Our app for the iPhone
-is the preeminent green location based service (LBS)
-is consistently ranked among the top sustainability apps for the iPhone

-serves hundreds of North American cities and growing 
-offers 60,000 listings across dozens of categories and sub-categories
-includes content from many leading green content providers including Mother Nature Network and CSRwire, the leading source of corporate social responsibility news and information

-now features the first location-based mobile coupon service for LOHAS businesses”

The danger is charges of greenwashing, when organizations make unsupportable environmental claims or make small environmental changes while still engaging in larger, environmentally damaging behaviors.  Green messages must come with some form of support for its claims or risk harm instead of benefits.  This goes back to the fundamental belief that public relations must be based on the actions of the organization not an exercise in symbolic action.   There is also a debate over who controls the green/sustainability messaging.  Marketing believes they control it while public relations feels it is under their domain.  The dominant green/sustainability efforts are reducing energy consumption (59%) and changing products to reflect green values (50%)

Questions to Consider

  1.  How will consumers determine is a corporate message is truly green or just greenwashing?  What are the implications for green public relations messages?
  2. Why would the Internet be the dominant communication channel for green and sustainability messages?
  3. What justifies the increased spending for green marketing/public relations messaging?
  4. What ethical questions are raised by green marketing/public relations messaging?
  5. Why might integrated communication be a good idea for green messaging?
  6. What is the value of 3rd whale and similar apps for organizations seeking to communicate their green/sustainability messages?
  7. Is being green and sustainable enough to be considered socially responsible?

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