Wednesday, November 28, 2007

When Sustainable Isn't - a Green Marketing Dilemma

David Baker from ReCourses had a great newsletter this month about the ubiquitousness of terms like "sustainability" and "branding" in marketing speak today, and why in order for a business to truly be sustainable, it needs to do more than just employ green practices; it needs to run itself in such a way that your financial health, corporate culture, and all the things that keep a business going aren't being ignored in favor of being seen as "green".

An excerpt:

Acting in more sustainable ways is a very good thing indeed, but if we are not authentic (and aligned internally as we pursue it), the brief moments we get on stage will turn open consumers into skeptical critics. Here are some suggestions about having a deeper impact on the world around you.

First, start internally before you preach externally. Assess and then embrace the true cost of following your conscience and lead by example. It's very popular but entirely too easy to suggest how other people should spend their money. Start with your own.

Second, don't ignore the broader definition of sustainability. Your carbon footprint matters, but I'm not sure it should matter more than running a genuinely "sustainable" business. That would be one that cares about financial health, management culture, work/life boundaries, doing effective work for clients, and even the sustainability of your own role. Taming chaos today by solving the same problems you fixed yesterday doesn't ooze sustainability. The best way I could synthesize this point is as follows: control follows viability, and impact follows control. Be the right sort of firm in order to give you the sort of control that can be wielded on behalf of clients that need it (even if they don't know they need it).

Third, be yourself even if it isn't all that sexy. Generally ignore what others are doing and craft something that's real, authentic, and substantive, so much so that you'll still be energized by it a decade from now. That's the sort of real differentiation that accompanies genuine branding. If you've done it right, the message on your web site can remain virtually unchanged for years and years. That, my friends, is a component of sustainability, and throwing my Venti Latte into the recycling container is more lip service than substance.

It's time to broaden our perspectives and be more balanced and authentic marketing partners who tell the truth, regardless of where it leads. It's time to drop flippant uses of the word branding, and it's time to take a more sustainable approach to sustainability. Seldom have larger businesses embraced a message as significant as this to marketing firms, and whether genuine or not, we have an opportunity to engage in meaningful conversation and move from the transactional work we've been doing to the consultative role we've longed for. Just keep in mind that good consultants aren't always popular, but they do have a point of view and they are honest.

The full text is here, but I'm not sure how much longer it'll be up there.

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